Category Archives: Personal

Day 2 – Part C – Tate Gallery in 20 Minutes

[June 17th]

We find the cycle racks, and lock our bikes, and sloach off dripping into the gallery, and stash our sopping bags and jackets in the lockers. And so begins possibly the quickest visit to a sizable gallery ever, twenty minutes tops.  I’ve got to be on the internet for a call to a client in less than an hour.


The first room is an wall installation of Sol Lewitt, a crazy snakey rainbow of thick swirly lines on the wall.

Upstairs, it was nice seeing some famous and familiar works without the usual stark white walls of the conventional gallery. Each room was a painted a different shade – red, yellow, blue, green – and work from the collection were set where they suited. I think it was curated by Michael Craig Martin.

The floor above was a surprise. Choose from two different channels of thumping disco tracks on a pair of radio headphones. Going through the black curtain flashbacked me to being underage at Cinderella Rockerfeller’s nightclub in Cambridge too early on a Friday night. Lots of space, and some very strange looking people. Mostly middle Eastern taxi drivers between shifts.

The sculptures stand around either awkward, self absorbed, or stare wolfishly at the others.

Degas’ Little Dancer stands on its own, priggishly positioning. Ron Mueck’s Ghost anxiously attempts to shrink her seven foot frame against the wall. Edmier’s Beverly Edmier checks her bulge, with her unborn child inside, considering if she should risk another vodka and orange or just get a taxi back home.

Butler’s Girl on a round base offers herself on a table, craving the attention, feeling everyone’s hungry gaze like fingers on her deliciously prickling skin. Foley’s Joshua Reynolds feels out of place and over-dressed and hot under his thick heavy robes. He’ll never score like that. Maillol’s Three Nymphs flirt and giggle with each other, sneaking glances around the room to see if any of the guys in the room are watching.

The dance floor stands empty, its not the time for dancing yet, too many inhibitions, not enough booze and pills. Only one sculpture is actually dancing, but off to the side, and she doesn’t seem overly concerned with where she is. One lady contorts herself into a chair, while Lucas’ Pauline Bunny seems to melt into one.

Anyway, I thought “awkward small town nightclub early on a Friday night” when I saw the exhibition. Most of the sculptures seemed to be about the frailty and imperfection of the body, the awkwardness of occupying space, next to examples of the longed-for perfection and the god-like ideal.

My brother’s friend Diana, who I met a few hours later, said that she had a completely different experience of the exhibition. She thought it was all marvelous and even had a dance when she went in.

I really enjoyed it, whatever the actual intention of the curation and disco accompanyment. It was interesting to see sculpture like this.

Day 2 – Part B – Rain Rain Rain

[June 17th]

Agent Smith standing in the rainIt’s drizzling a little when we leave Cairn Street for the Egg Cafe for filling veggie lunch. When we cycle off to the Albert Dock and the Tate Gallery, it’s raining quite convincingly. We dismount to lock our bikes to the boundary chain of the car park. An Agent of the Matrix appears from nowhere (a glitch?). Wow, is he really wearing shades? Its raining!

“Please don’t lock your bikes to that chain” the agent says. In a Scouse accent. We look up, questioningly. “People are always locking their bikes to the chain. It damages the paintwork”. I am taken aback. this is not Matrixy at all. I did not know there were Scouse Agents.

My brother, forever helpful, suggests that if people are always locking their bike here it might indicate the need for a bike rack here. To which Agent says “This is not really a cycle park….there are places to part your bike over the bridge”.

I can hear the Agent’s own faint embarassment in his voice. “This is not really a cycle park”. Fuck. I am programmed better than this.

The Agent resents that he is tasked with preventing wet hippies from parking their bikes where they are not supposed to. He would rather be doing cool slow motion Kung Fu fighting with Neo and Trinity even though he would inevitably get his ass kicked. He would always be regenerated. He could never really die. The binary was backed up. His existence would have meaning. Respect.

Not like this. This. This is like a waking death. Pacing around Albert Dock. instructing teenagers to get off their skateboards. Chastising people for dropping litter. Pointing out where the loos are to red faced wincing women. Making sure bikes are parked in the designated zone. Worse than death. It just goes on and on.

He wonders if the male human would fight if he was challenged, if he would bend and curve around the code like Neo does. He tilts his head to see, but the two humans have already cycled off, eager to get out of the rain.

Day 2 – Part A – Ghost Town

[June 17th]

The other side of Jermyn Street?This morning, after a huge heaping of branny breakfast, my brother and I visit Martin in Granby, an area of Toxteth in Liverpool where there are four whole streets that have been marked out for ‘renewal’.

  • In local council speak, this roughly translates as ‘this area is broken, let’s bulldoze it and put some luxury flats here and hopefully make some money’.
  • In developer speak, ‘we get some grants to redevelop brown-belt sites. Here’s some land we can get cheap’
  • In landlord speak, this translates as ‘quick, easy money? OK’.
  • In tenant speak, this translates as ‘We can’t afford the rents anywhere else. Oh we have to move? Right then, we’ll pack’
  • In home-owner speak, this translates as ‘I worked hard for my house. My family has lived here for generations. I am not moving’.

So for the last few years, the council and developers and the remaining home-owners in the four street area of Ducie, Jermyn, Cairns and Beaconsfield have been involved in an uneasy stand-off. The council and developers offer paltry sums and terrible terms for the property.

If you are retired and have no mortgage, would you accept a lump sum that couldn’t buy property anywhere else in the city? Or would you exchange it for free rent on a flat, when you have kids you want to pass your house to? The last 22 households aren’t tempted.

row of pigeonsSo while the vacant houses around them collapse in on themselves, while contractors employed by the council come round and rip the lead off the roofs (‘to stop other people doing it’), the residents continue to live there. Windows get bricked up. Big security doors and screens get installed. They watch as their once bustling neighbourhood gets used as a dumping ground for old furniture, trailers, rubbish. Pigeons move in. Everything gets eerily quiet.

The thing is, the houses are quite big, and nice. They are of a brick Victorian terrace style that anyone down in the South of England would be eager to preserve and pay sh*t-loads of money for. The developers insist that they aren’t worth keeping. Its cheaper to scrap them and do new-builds, not even keep the facades, though they initially paid lip-service to this idea.

Several years ago, the residents of Cairns street decided to do something about their neighbourhood, not content to watch everything slide into dereliction. So they spent lots of time tidying up the rubbish, carting away the abandoned furniture.

Seedlings on an abandoned trailerEleanor, a green-fingered and community minded resident, spear-headed an effort to green the area. In pots, bowls, baskets and stacks of old tires, flowers and vines and saplings are planted. plants hang from lamp-posts, stack along the top of walls, train up fences. Someone builds boxes for flower beds on the pavement. A trailer gets turned into a nursery stand for seedlings. They enter in the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition, and win neighbourhood prizes. People start coming specifically to admire the plants.

It would be nice to get more publicity for the area and the resident’s plight. It’s also a wonderful example of a collective ‘f*** you’ to the council and developers that don’t appreciate the personal significance or architecture of a place. A neighbourhood is not a collection of buildings. It is a community. Establishing a destination – in the words of James H Kustler,  ‘a place worth caring about‘ – takes the efforts of the people that live there. The council and developers can help but they often get it wrong. And its nice to have a few plants around.

Day 1 – arrival in Liverpool, rhubarb was made for this recipe

[June 16th]
I am going to visit my brother in Liverpool. He is of the impression that I need Cheering Up.

There was some faffing this morning. Did not mean to. bed was comfy, radio was interesting, bag needed re-packing, boxes needed sorting. I discovered the fine CB1 coffee shop and their marvelous coffee and wifi though, given that it was inevitable I was going to miss my train.

Wisdom attained today

  1. Time of task will always expand into time available. Rediscovered this. When will I learn?
  2. When unprepared or broke, biscuits are an acceptable and appreciated present to give hosts, especially if hosts are one’s brother and girlfriend. And instantly gratifying as biscuits are inevitably opened upon your arrival and served with tea. I did not remember biscuits, thinking that somehow in between my home and Liverpool the perfect gift would magic its way into my rucksack.
  3. Rhubarb was waiting for ginger, and now it all makes sense

OK about this rhubarb crumble. The other week, I tried this ginger-with-rhubarb thing. A few weeks ago I happened upon a delicious recipe that involved caramelization and flambe of the rhubarb and ginger and rum. It was amazing, but I felt like I was cooking for several days.

With access to much of the same ingredients, I wondered if there was a better way – nay, a lazier way – to similarly yummy results. I found it!

In the (new) tradition of blogging, I’ll paraphrase a variation of the original.

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb....GINGER!!!

Rhubarb and ginger crumble

  • 800g trimmed rhubarb
  • 200g self-raising flour, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 200g demerara sugar – or any sugar found in your brother’s kitchen
  • 2 knobs stem ginger – no idea what this is. I put loads in. We like ginger.
  • 100g ground almonds – I used roughly smashed up sliced almonds – added nice texture
  • 175g unsalted butter, chilled and diced – I used salty butter, seemed still yummy
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Wash the rhubarb to clean and then chop into 3cm pieces. Roughly chop the ginger – I grated – as grating is easier. Oven was at whatever temperature set hastily 5 mins before.
  2. Toss rhubarb in a bowl with the 2 tablespoons flour, half the sugar and the ginger. Arrange over the base of a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of water. – you see??? no pre-caramelized flambé! just chuck it all into a dish and be done!!! I used really strong rum – stroh – instead of water. Seemed popular. And effective.
  3. Combine flour, remaining sugar, ground almonds and butter using your hands* until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  4. Scatter mixture over the rhubarb and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and crisp and the juices are bubbling up at the sides.
  5. Serve with custard. I served with really delicious ice cream. yogurt works well too. So you can pretend that you are being good and self-denying by having yogurt, but you’re really having a big bowl of sugary yummy goodness. with yogurt.

I discovered that my brother’s friend Martin is now married to someone charming and lovely, Stella, and is also appreciative of ginger rhubarb crumble. yay!

I get a little tipsy on red wine. Not much of a drinker these days.

Apple – you suck!

iPhone 3G SI REFUSE to fall into the iphone 3G S coveting trap…My 3G bought less than 2 months ago is doing me just fine.

It keeps my hands warm when its cold…I get home at a sensible time as the battery life is limited, meaning more good sleep…I edit in my head instead of relying on copy & paste, which translates in a spareness and conciseness of communication… and really, pictures are so much better than video…and who really needs 32GB on a fricking phone? That’s like those people that carry round a massive bunch of keys and don’t know what more than 5 of them are for. Magnetic internal compass? – that’s just silly. Next you’ll say that it has a whistle and an army knife. Oh it does? Well poo poo to you, I can get that for my 3G.

I am FINE with my phone. Just fine. Stop talking about it now please. SHUSH. I mean it. Lalalalallalallalalalalalallaalalallalalala

Cambridge Gee Knights!

headless chickenOK Cambridge Geek Nights. will be there tonight at the Maypole at 7:30pm. I am excited to meet the people that have strange and wonderful ideas and have the will and brains to follow through – what I think of as Geeks. I.e. not the kind of geeks that bite heads off chickens.

  • Two 15-minute presentations: One of the speakers will be Gareth Rushgrove, Django/Python developer & web geek, with a second speaker to be announced soon
  • A few (2-3) lightning talks: These are short 5 minute sessions to share something you use/do/love/hate
  • Plenty of time to socialise and get to know your fellow Cambridge geeks
  • Oh and there will be beer!

Strawberry Fair and Gothometer


I spent the day at Strawberry fair yesterday. I was helping in the arts area, which was fun and lovely but very tiring.

My favourite bit was the ‘Gothometer’, an art work by Colin Dewar. This was a device that detected how ‘goth’ you are. It looked to be a monolith with a stand in front of it, with a semi-circular display and pointer. The display goes up to eleven. A camera with a laptop was situated away from the main apparatus.

A voice instructs you to ‘please mount the podium’. No one that I saw interpreted this in the dirty way, and most people somberly and carefully stepped on the stand to wait for the the visual information to be processed.

The computer determines the ‘gothness’, a buzzer goes off, and the result is displayed, and a snippet of a song that appropriately reflects the result plays. Despite my imploring, Colin thought it best not to have Raffi’s ‘Banana Phone’ as level 1 (“too annoying” he said!), instead opted for alternating between Kylie Minogue’s ‘I should be so lucky’, and Alvin and the Chipmunk’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’.  Other artists included the expected The Cult, Ministry, Siouxie and the Banshees and The Cure, but also Billy Ray Cyrus, Bauhuas, The Fall depending on gothness.

If someone was determined to be really really Goth, and got an 11, then not only would a song play but a little puff of a smoke would be expelled from the smoke machine behind the podium.

The whole thing was genius. Really fabulous. What might come as a surprise is that there really is a complicated algorithm to determine gothness – how many black and purple pixels could be found on the image from the webcam! I guess the results could be compromised if the view was obscured, or the lighting was bad. Also not all goths limit their wardrobe to black and purple. The scene has developed in some rather odd and fantastic ways, such as what my friend Si would call ‘Fluoro-goth’ where the person forgoes black entirely for bright acid colours in clothes and hair, but recognizably goth make-up.

Anyway, here are a couple of pictures from the day. I helped set up, including digging trenches for the power, servo and audio and went through the entire day with really grubby hands.

Note to British porto-potty providers – a sink with water is really cute and all, but utterly useless if THERE IS NO SOAP. Running cold water on hands doesn’t help with sanitation. Your hands are now dirty, germy and wet. I would have been happier with hand sanitizer, though would not have got rid of the dirt under my fingernails but I would have felt that I was not carrying festival toilet germs around with me everywhere.

The films were brill. I even liked my stint heckling punters from my 1945 programme stall with the union jack bunting and George Fornby playing out of the Tannoy. I wish the weather was better, but the real misery from the sky happened today so it could have been worse. JC, Simon Mullen, Cathy Dunbar, Helen Judge, Colin Dewar, Jen and all the others did a fantastic job with the arts area, and should be really proud.