Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A quiet Christmas

Be warned: you are being monitored by CCTV on this blog.

On December 25, 2006, Pete and I indulged in what was possibly the quietest Christmas ever. Wishing to get a bloody long way away from the madding crowd, we enjoyed the enriching experience that is Christmas TV, a chilly bike ride, and beer. Or two.

The ride was interesting. We headed east along the Thames, past Greenwich and up to the Thames barrier at Woolwich. The barrier, as I found out later, is to enable the Empress of Arachnos to take over the world in Dr Who. Aside: I finally saw the new Dr Who and as one would hope, it's a lot better than its spinoff series, Torchwood.

We crossed under the river at the Woolwich foot tunnel and explored the north side, starting near City Airport. This is potentially a useful airport, albeit a small one. Unfortunately, they don't fly anywhere I want to go just yet. It's not too hard to get too, and a lot easier than Heathrow, Stansted, Gatwick, or Luton.

We cruised through fairly deserted streets until we came to Canary Wharf, which was even more deserted. The security guards waved us through ("you can go about your business") and we were let loose. The place is basically a concentration of big financial institutions and looks a bit like La Defence in Paris, except nicer. I realise that's not saying much. There was almost no-one there, apart from a few brave tourists. It's cool seeing London so quiet, especially this bit.

There were a few more tourists near the city proper, but nothing like usual. We rode through St Katharine docks and admired a ridiculously sized yacht called Björn that was one of many moored there. It looked like a noice place to live, and it had the advantage of being next to the Tower of London. Handy all amenities and stuff like that.

We took the Tower Bridge back over the Thames and went along the south side of the river past Shad Thames - a newish and trendy restaurant/bar spotte. You find in London that the suburbs change very rapidly, depending a bit on how close you are to the centre and to the river. It can be quite upmarket one minute, and the next minute you are in a fairly rundown council housing estate. There's very little uniformity and the planning seems to be very localised. There's nothing really wrong with that; it's just a little odd sometimes. If you go to the other extreme, you end up with something like Canberra, which is lacking in soul and character.

Unfortunately, all the pubs that we'd spotted that were open were closed by the time we went out later on. Not really surprising, given that it was Christmas day, but it meant that we had to rely on our own stocks of ale. Fortunately, we had found an off-licence to replenish them during the day, or it would have been a dry Christmas.

A savage national bike route

Boxing Day: Repeat above, expect that Pete was sick so I went north on me own. I followed the Lea canal, which unfortunately was marked as a National Bike Route. There wasn't so much dirt or mud, but there were some nasty sections of cobbles. One was only maybe 30m long, but it had lateral cobbled ridges all the way along - sort of like a cattle grid for cyclists. I hit it at 30 km/h and was nearly thrown off the bike! I escaped with a very sore back. Damn these national bike routes. Damn them all.

The canal itself was interesting though. There were boats going up and down them and all the locks were manual jobs. There were also a lot of deaf pedestrians. I need a bell and possibly a handlebar mounted BB gun.

The pubs were open on Boxing Day, so Pete and I went to the Ship and Whale for a romantic pint and a feed. Hell, we were even offered candles by the sympathetic bar staff :-) Still, we managed to solve at least a few of the world's problems in a couple of hours. Mainly the sporting world. It's amazing what beer can do!

Media coverage

TV was high on the agenda during the Christmas break.

Firstly, I learned via teletext that James Brown is Dead (For a Real Player audio version, click here). And this time it's not by that legendary Belgian band, L.A. Style, aka Denzil Slemming. Mijnheer Slemming has obviously been waiting 15 years for the Godfather of Soul to croak so he can reap the massive royalties from a revival of this song.

Secondly, we managed to watch at least five episodes of Pete's Christmas present: Yes, Minister. He has seven DVDs and therefore hours of amusement. It's still excellent.

Thirdly, we also managed to watch (at least in part) Van Helsing, Monsters Inc., Bugsy Malone, Casper the Ghost, Monkey Business, Harlem Nights and far too much Christmas music television. We saw none of the Ashes. Go Warne.

The printed word

Books I am now reading, all at once, in any particular order:

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail by Hunter S. Thompson. Much longer but not as good as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, maybe because he was off the heinous drugs. Still, it's an off-beat look at the 1972 US presidential election.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. A collection of short stories by this Japanese author. A little surreal, and quite readable.

Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett. Another in his excellent Discworld series. I realised only recently that Ankh-Morpork was closely modelled on London (duh). That is borne out by the map in the front of the book.

Helen Garner and the Meaning of Everything by Alex Jones, who happens to be my uncle. I've only just started it, but I like it a lot so far. It's very funny, and even more so when you know the family.

Sun watch

I saw the sun for five minutes today, on a train somewhere between Didcot and Swindon. I'm not sure what the sun was doing catching the train, but it was obviously taking advantage of First Great Western's top notch service.

So since December 18, 2006 and December 27 (that's nine days), I have seen 5 minutes of sun. I read that you need sun for your wellbeing, and I can see that there is a direct link between the sun, my wellbeing, and TV watched over the Christmas period.

Fortunately, I have a set top box now (thanks Pete) so I can get freeview digital TV in 2010, when the switchover happens in Bath. What a day that will be.

Back to First Great Western. I read today that Johnny Depp is considering moving to Bath. He is apparently a regular at many of the town's nite spots and has stayed at the Royal Crescent Hotel. My source was FGW's Reach magazine, and I trust it implicitly.

Off to Stockholm on Friday. I'll remember to take my Radcliffe camera.

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