Sunday, 6 November 2011

Brighton or Bust

It’s been a good weekend for old car enthusiasts in the Capital. The annual London to Brighton run took place, as usual,  on the first Sunday in November. 

Commemorating the Emancipation Run of the 14th November1896 which, in turn, celebrated the Act of Parliament raising of the speed limit for “light locomotives” on the road from 4mph to 14mph. Commonly known as the Red Flag Act, the earlier law originally required vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot carrying the said flag. Although the need for the flag had been abolished in 1878, the walking pace speed limit remained. The jump to 14mph was seen as a great leap forward by the motorists of the late 19th century.

In 1896, thirty three motor enthusiasts set off to drive from Central London to Brighton. Although only fourteen of the vehicles made it to the final destination, it was a fine achievement considering the available technology and the state of the roads. It does however seem that there may have been some ungentlemanly behaviour on the day. There is a suggestion that an electric vehicle may have made most of the journey by train, Although it wasn’t a race, I suspect that there may have been a wager involved somewhere along the line.

The first official rerun of the 1896 event took place in 1927 and, with the exception of the war years and 1947 (due to petrol rationing), it has taken place every year since. Organised since 1930 by the Royal Automobile Club, the run started from Hyde Park at sunrise on Sunday morning. 

At this point I have to confess that I wasn’t there to see it. I’d like to say that it was due to circumstances beyond my control……..but I can’t. I will say no more! I have been to the start before and it is well worth making the effort. Next year I will try a little harder and, who knows, one day I may even make it down to Brighton to see them arrive at Madeira Drive.

Fortunately,  for the last few years, it has been possible to see a number of the cars in Central London on the preceding Saturday. Part of Regent St has been closed of to allow the cars, and their owners, to be displayed for the public to enjoy. There is also a Concours d’Elegance with prizes awarded for a variety of categories.

This year the event was extended with the introduction Regent St Motor Show. Featuring vehicles from three centuries, the19thC was represented by the earliest of the London to Brighton cars, the 20thC by the remainder of the veterans and the 21stC by a politically correct range of  fuel efficient and zero emission vehicles. The 20thC was further enhanced by the fact that this year is the 50th anniversary of both the Jaguar E Type and the Mini Cooper and there were some very fine examples if both of theses marques on display.

Not everyone will think that closing a large chunk of Regent St on a Saturday is a good idea., I think that we can easily live with it. This is a free event in the heart of the Capital and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone. You can get up close and personal with some very interesting and colourful vehicles, you can talk to the owners and, if you ask them nicely, you may even be able to sit in one and honk the horn!

Go and take a look next year. It may even inspire you to get up early to watch the cars leave Hyde Park or, perhaps,  to stake out a place along the route to offer your encouragement to the participants.

Did I mention that they still symbolically destroy a red flag before the first cars are waved off? It makes you proud to be British!

Monday, 31 October 2011

The Power of Tech To Disappoint and Other Assorted Ramblings

So, the clocks went back at the weekend and we had the pleasure of reclaiming the hour we lost in the Spring. I woke early in the morning and heard the soft click that my alarm clock makes when the  alarm itself is switched off, so I actually knew what time it was but I was still looking forward to checking the time, knowing that I still had that extra hour to play with. A simple pleasure perhaps, but a pleasure nonetheless. My ancient clock radio (now all clock and no radio) was no help. It’s display was flashing random numbers due to me not resetting it after a brief power cut a couple of days ago and my alarm clock was out of reach (designed to make me take positive action to silence it on a work morning), so I reached for my mobile, clicked the button and was, sadly, presented with the real time. Not a big deal perhaps, it does after all claim to be a smart phone. It just went about its business and simply reset itself while I was asleep, thereby depriving me of that brief, annual pleasure. Even my wristwatch managed without me, it gets its power from the sun and it's accuracy from a mysterious signal beamed out by some distant machine and will, in all probability, continue to function efficiently well after I have departed this life. Just once in a while I’d like to think that the tech needed my help, rather than the other way around!

On Friday I went to see the new installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. I had avoided reading anything about it, hoping to be mightily impressed as I walked in but it didn’t work out that way.

I like to enter the building via the western entrance to get the full experience of that amazing space. A friend (who describes the Tate as a bookshop with a gallery attached……..she’s not a fan!) considers this a waste of space, but I think of it as a rare luxury and one to be enjoyed. Having said that though, it is sometimes nice to see something in it. In this case, as so often, there is nothing to be seen, all of the action being at the eastern end, beyond the bridge.

Having read the blurb and admired the fact that the artist had used traditional methods to create this work. Cutting, splicing and hand colouring the frames of film to create something outstanding. Bouyed up with anticipation, I made my way through to see the finished result.

I really tried to appreciate what I was seeing, but I couldn’t. It was 11 minutes (I think) of my life that I will never see again and 11 minutes that I wish I had spent elsewhere. There are, I’m sure, plenty of people who will recommend that you should not miss this exhibition at any cost. Sadly, I’m not one of those people.

I freely admit that I am an art klutz, but I know enough to be able to say that all art is subjective and is reliant completely on prodding your emotions. Walking around any gallery you will see some things that you will love and others that you will hate. Things that stimulate you and things that just bore you. Things that will make you say “I could have done that” and others that will make you think ”I wish I could have done that”. In this case, my emotions remained completely unmolested!  

Luckily, it was a fine evening and the view across  the river from the Tate didn’t fail to please. The tide was high and fast flowing, and St Paul’s and the Millenium Bridge always look brilliant at night. So it wasn’t a complete right off. 

On the way to the Tate I noticed that the South Bank Tower appeared to be wearing a pink bra! I’d missed this story but a little investigation showed that this was an attempt to create the World’s largest bra and is now a Guiness World Record holder (no pun intended!) It was also a charity event in support of the Breast Cancer Campaign. For the record, it had a bust measurement of 29.6 metres and had a size of 1360 B.

Sadly, when I returned on Saturday to take pictures (after all, it’s not everyday that you see an office block wearing a bra!) the building had returned to it’s naked state. It hasn’t been a photographically productive weekend.

Finally, be aware that the Capital is being overrun by zombies

Zombies are obviously “in” at the moment, last year it was vampires, next year, who knows. I’m hoping that the current Zombie plague is related to Halloween, if it isn’t, we really are in trouble.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Late Night Dinosauria

The BBC has been having a bit of a dinofest recently. The series Planet Dinosaur has been leading the way but there have been a number of associated factual programs on BBC2and BBC4 and even a showing of the 1969 Hammer classic When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. 

This isnt a complaint. Im rather partial to dinosaurs. Childhood visits to the Natural History Museum  are responsible for that. Its not a scholarly sort of fascination, I couldnt identify a baryonyx from a single metatarsal and a tooth, and I cant separate my Jurassic dinos from their Cretaceous cousins, but I do find them extraordinarily beguiling.

I do sometimes find the superlatives hurled at these creatures to be slightly annoying. The biggest/longest/heaviest/most lethal creature ever to have walked the Earth is totally misleading. For years we have been told that T Rex was the biggest, baddest killing machine ever to have stomped around on our planet. Now its been relegated to second, or even third in the ratings. The current super villain seems to be Spinosaurus, but the best we can ever really say is that it is the top predator found to date.

Palaeontologists have really only scratched the surface as far as discoveries are concerned. Major new finds in China, Mongolia and South America are expanding our knowledge and, more importantly for someone like me, providing jaw dropping new record holders to wonder at.

But, perhaps, the thing that really grabs my attention is the time scale. We have been around for a while. Its generally accepted that Modern Humans first appeared around 200,000 years ago.  All things considered, we have come quite a long way in that time. From basic stone tools to the computer on which this is being written. From walking the plains to flying in planes and from looking at the stars to sending machines into space to find out how they work. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, were around for something like 160,000,000 years before disappearing 65,000,000 years ago. The super killers T Rex and Spinosaurus never  got the chance to see who was top dog because they lived 30,000,000 years apart. Yes, that is thirty million years apart! These are mind numbing numbers and almost impossible to grasp.

OK, dinos didnt have planes, trains or automobiles. They didnt paint masterpieces, enjoy the cinema or get frustrated by the internet. They didnt get to enjoy a convivial pint at the local pub or watch Pink Floyd in concert and they didnt get to fly to the moon, but what they did do is survive and evolve. Anyway you look at it, 160,000,000 years is not to be sniffed at.

It does beg the question, where will we be in 160,000,000 years? Will we even still exist or have we already sown the seeds of our own destruction? If we do still exist, what will we have become? No one can say and perhaps its better not to know. I, for one, plan not to lose any sleep worrying about it. Ill just enjoy the past and let the far future take care of its self.

We are lucky in London to have the Natural History Museum. One of the worlds greatest collections and a place where research into the past and the present inevitably gives us a glimpse into the future.

The building itself is a joy, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, it opened in 1881. Built in the high Victorian style, extensive use is made of terracotta tiles, both inside and out. Both tiles and brickwork feature relief sculptures of flora and fauna, living on the west side of the building and extinct on the east. Even without its contents its a place in which you'd be happy to spend a lot of time.

Along with other museums and galleries in the capital, the NHM has a late night opening. With the exception of December, the museum opens until 10.00pm on the last Friday of every month. You can have a meal and a glass of wine or a beer (there is something slightly decadent about wandering around a museum with a glass of wine in your hand!) and you can chat to various experts about a whole range of subjects . You should be aware that not all of the galleries are open in the evening. If there is something that you particularly want to see, it might be worth contacting the museum beforehand to see if it accessible.

I cant believe that there are many Londoners who havent been to the NHM, but if you are one of them sort yourself out and get along there as soon as possible. You wont regret it.

More interesting stuff here.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Pedal to the Medal

I recently received a press release giving details of a promotion for Pringles to take place in London on Tuesday 27th September. If you happen to be in the West End on that day and you happen to see a bright red rickshaw emblazoned with the Pringles logo, just hail it and you will be transported to your chosen destination free of charge and they’ll even throw in some free samples!

All of the journeys must be within the West End area and will last a maximum of half an hour.

Why a rickshaw ride? Well, it all seems to be tied in with the UK Track Cycling Championships and the fact that the new Olympic Velodrome has been nicknamed the Pringle, due to the shape of the roof. Although, how all of this sporting connection equates to sitting back in a rickshaw and letting someone else do all the work is slightly beyond me.

To be honest, I’m probably the least likely person to be passing this information on. I’m not sporty, I don’t cycle, I didn't support our Olympic bid and most importantly I don’t favour the use of rickshaws in Central London. However, if any of these things really do it for you, or even if you just want a free ride, remember this is a one day only offer.

I do like a Pringle though!