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Linkblog – August 7th to September 11th

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Linkblog between August 7th and September 11th:

Just so you know, this is an automated recent overview of the Linkblog, a collection of interesting links I find on my travels. The archives are here:

Ghostly Performance

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It’s not every day that you can go and see old school friends play music in front of fans and TV cameras. But that day came yesterday, when I trundled along to watch Ghosts play at London’s Hospital club, a mysterious but fittingly white building in Covent Garden. The performance was being filmed for AOL Music, and only a few people were invited, which made it all the more enticing. I’d brought along Elli, who had know idea who Ghosts were and who i’d hoped to convert to a fan. We managed to meet in Leicester Square – despite the delayed trains doing all they could to ruin it – and I followed Elli the few hundred yards over to Covent Garden. I discovered, much to my annoyance, that it’s another area of London that’s actually quite nice. Dammit.
We arrived unfeasibly early, and sat in a nearby bar having a cocktail while the clock ticked round to 6.30. After we’d got in and had ourselves ticked off on the guest list, we were ushered to another room, which looked like an art gallery. On the walls were photographic portraits, and as we had time to kill we walked around looking for all the world like art connoisseurs. Gradually, the room filled up with people, and after we’d stared at the portraits for far too long we were taken through to the performance stage.
It was an almost entirely black, large room, with one side set up with microphones, speakers and instruments and the other with the lighting crew and a white line on the floor – which we were told to stand behind. Camera crews were swinging their large wheeled cameras around, practising for the main event. After a few sound checks and excited whoops from the crowd, the place went silent.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome… GHOSTS!” The small crowd erupted in claps and cheers, and then the moment I’d been eagerly waiting for – the members of Ghosts rocked up through the curtains at the back of the stage.
It was a strange feeling – these were guys I’d known for years, at least one of them since I was seven years old. Unlike everyone else in the crowd, I couldn’t picture them at all as pop stars – I still remember them on the sports field, or at the back of the class in lessons. And yet here they were, about to do something a lot of people dream of…
Simon and Robbie, the singer and bassist, seemed to notice me – standing head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, bang in the middle, I was hard to miss I imagine. I was tempted to wave, but they all evidently had their hands full – and if they decided to wave back there’d probably have been a camera retake to deal with. I contented myself with giving them all knowing smiles and taking pictures (which are here) and a couple of rubbish videos when I could. (Seems another person in the crowd was busy with the camera trigger too).
After their seven song set – plus two more for retakes – the session was over. They then embarked on a meet and greet for the crowd, and I was going to slip away – eager to not appear like a groupie – until I caught the eye of Robbie. He greeted me with a big smile, talked about the success they were having and how exhausting it all was – they all looked knackered, having been in Paris that morning for promotion and flying back for this gig and two rehearsals in the afternoon. “Any groupies?”, I asked. “Not yet – but I’m working on it…” Robbie said with a knowing wink. I managed to catch up with all of them on the set, and hung around a bit to watch the fans asking for autographs taking pictures and telling Simon how many gigs they’d been to so far. The AOL cameras were still filming, taking it all in. It was a little surreal, and I could sense that all the band wanted to do was sit down and zone out after a long day. As Elli and I made our way through to leave, Simon told us to follow him upstairs. We ended up in their dressing room, complete a suitable enormous flat screen television – “we’ve no idea how to work it, it’s beyond me,” said Mark – sofas, a beer fridge and mirrored washbasins. And there we sat for about half an hour, reminiscing with them all. It was great to catch up with them, and also great to find that they haven’t changed a bit from the nice guys they always were…

A bit of Stuff

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“Don’t come too early, cos I’ve got a late night with Renault people. And Hannah.”

Jac’s certainly not wasted time since his release from a long termer a couple of months ago. One woman in particular seems to have become a regular fixture at his new house in Putney, and this latest snippet of information was like a red rag to a bull. Nick and I were due at Jac’s on Saturday morning to visit the Stuff Show in Hammersmith. We hadn’t met Hannah, and decided it was about time we forced Jac’s hand. We turned up on his doorstep at 8.30am, eager as a couple of beavers. It was a freezing morning, and after a couple of rings of the doorbell, I gave him a call.
“Morning Jac. How are you feeling?”
“I see. We’re outside your house.”
“Let us in please.”
“You utter *****.”
It still took him a few minutes to gather his senses and open the door, by which time we were slowly turning to icicles. Turns out he wasn’t too impressed with our early start, his hangover still in full force – and Nick and I instantly made the most of it, laudly stomping round the house and requesting breakfast. We took ourselves for a short tour of his new pad, and as we entered the front room he hurriedly removed items of clothing and underwear from the chairs and floor. “Had a good night?” I asked, catching a glimpse of Hannah round the door. “Hmmmm,” he replied. Nick and I gave ourselves a look of mirth.
A couple of sausage sandwiches later, we’d met Hannah, teased Jac (“she seems nice,” was met with a Jac-based scowl) and hurried him along. After discovering I’d got a parking ticket for NO REASON AT ALL (complaint pending on that one, let me assure you) we arrived at the Stuff Show and took in the gadgetry. It was actually a little disappointing – far less stands than the year before, and the stands that were there were mostly selling MP3 players. We left a few hours later for lunch, discovering that Putney is actually very nice, and that Gourmet Burger Kitchen is an amazing place to go for cracking burgers.
So, a bit of a revelation – I’ve found a bit of London I actually like! Check me out…

Rocking Rickshaws

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I woke up at 6.30am, as usual, and demanded my presents. I was now 28, after all, and the frightening closeness to the big 3-0 had to have a silver lining somewhere. Michelle had been teasing me for the best part of two weeks about her plans, and as it turned out she’d pulled out all the stops and get us tickets to the We Will Rock You musical in London. This was doubly brave for her, as she’s not keen on visiting London these days in case she gets blown up….
Naturally, I was excited. We travelled up just after lunch, and ambled round the sights of central London. After initially thinking the Dominion Theatre was in Leicester Square – which was entirely wrong but did enable us to get a meal meal at TGI Fridays into the bargain – we found the theatre, with its huge gold statue of Freddie Mercury glistening outside the entrance. There was a real buzz outside, and inside people we rushing upstairs, downstairs and across the foyer, bundled with sweets, drinks and lightsticks to wave during the performance. We forced our way through to the main theatre – past the poor souls queueing for ages to get their tickets – sat in a seat at the back middle of the auditorium.
And, from there, we sat – increasingly mesmerised at the antics on stage. Michelle and I had forgotten how good musicals were – and this one is no exception. It’s not your standard musical – and it doesn’t chart the musical life of Queen or Freddie Mercury either. It has it’s own imaginary story, based around Queen songs. And it is VERY good indeed. On a chilly Thursday night, after 6 years of twice-daily performances, they still managed to get the entire audience on their feet, chanted, laughing, dancing and singing along with the cast.
I can’t imagine how the cast manage to do the same thing every day for years like that. One of the cast had been there since it first started in 2000 – although I later learned that they do swop roles, which I suppose is something. And I imagine the cash incentive is a bit of a factor…
Anyway, after these musings, Michelle and I stepped out into the chilly night, eagerly peering round for a taxi. But there, shining it in eccentric brilliance, was a far better form of transport. Ladies and Gentleman, before us was a rickshaw. With a man on the front, eager searching for punters. Most people stayed clear, not wishing to be seen on a glorified bicycle – but it was exactly what I was after. I dragged Michelle into the two-seater “cab”, and sat down. The “driver” peered in and took a long look at me. I was wondering whether I’d have to pay a surcharge for my ample frame, but he relented, hoped on and cycled for all he was worth to Waterloo train station. Luckily, there were no hills, and he managed to get there with the minimum of fuss – although we had time to wave to astonished onlookers and text most of my phone book with the words, “Currently on a rickshaw”. Sorry about that…
So, another cracking birthday, thanks to Michelle. When I got to work the following Monday to boast it turned out my boss had seen it four time “and counting”. Show off.

“Let’s keep it melancholy.”

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Jac and I have been following the band Easyworld since we were young. Well, younger. When they split, we mourned a little. then David Ford, the lead singer, went solo, and we cheered up a little bit. He is a musical genius, able to play almost any instrument you can think of, and write lyrics that are painfully incisive. Here are some of Easyworld’s videos, and some of David’s own stuff (his own site is
Anyway, that’s enough of the promotion, I want to boast. David’s been touring Australia and America, and was offering a one-night-only show in London. Tickets sold out before I’d even had the chance to log on and find them. Then he moved to a larger venue – again they were sold out before I got back from work that day. So, clutching at straws, I emailed Jac, who has made some usual friends while trying to get into the music industry. “Can you get some tickets?” I asked him, resigned to the fact there was almost certainly no chance.
And then, an email from Jac. “I am amazing,”, it started, which was no surprise – he’s become a One Man Publicity Machine of late. Yes, yes, I muttered, why this time? “I have got tickets for David Ford tonight.”
As I entered The Borderline venue that night, I had to admit that for once Jac was amazing. Here we were at a sold out gig, with two free guest tickets. Ford’s supporting act were the surprisingly good Angus and Julia Stone, a brother and sister who had travelled from Australia to break themselves in over here. And then, sweet lord, it was David Ford, telling everyone who cheered to “keep it melancholy, alright?” It was the first time I’d seen him live, and he was better than I’d even imagined. Using everything he could lay his hands on to make musical sounds, he was a one man band with a difference, proving that music can be everywhere and that he actually didn’t need any other band members at all. Jac’s musical review is here. Word has it he’s doing well in America at the moment – let’s hope he doesn’t stay over there. He’s a bit of a secret on the music scene at the moment, and perversly I’d quite like him to stay that way…
And then the train drivers went on strike, meaning that I spent an uncomfortable 90 minutes in the back of a taxi with two Guildford-based indians who could barely speak English. It was worth it, though…

Streetwars – The London Game

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An email plopped into my inbox this morning from good friend Jon, heralding what could be the best idea I’ve seen to date. It’s called StreetWars and is billed as a three week long, 24/7, watergun assassination tournament played in real life on the city streets. If that doesn’t appeal to your inner child, I don’t know what will!
People who sign up for the game get details of other players work and home addresses, and have to work out a way to “assassinate” them. The London game is due to start in a few weeks – and I was so ready to sign up until I learned I had to work and live in London to join. So, if you up for a load of fun, live and work in London, and ignore the potential of random people having your contact details, sign up now!

I’m still not liking London…

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“Is that your car?” the unkempt lady asked, hiding a smirk.
I groaned. Over the past hour, I had been sitting beside my car, waiting for a van to turn up and release me from my pain.
Why, you ask, couldn’t I just drive off? Well, I’m afraid to say I was well and truly clamped, rumbled for parking in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sure, I could blame it on my colleague Adrian (pictured), who directed me to the space in the first place – but really I should have learnt by now not to rely on him. “The left side of the road was for Pay and Display parking, the right side for Residents Only,” I explained to the bored helpdesk woman at the Camden Parking Office. To emphasise the point, I finished with “It was a genuine mistake!” – but then realised that they’d probably heard that many, many times before, and cut my losses. The lady took 115 pounds from my credit card before telling me (I’m sure with a smirk) that the “clamping team” would take between 1 and 4 hours to turn up. clamped.jpgThis, as you can imagine, was not welcome news. “Why,” I asked, feeling my blood boil, “does it take you up to four hours to arrive, when it only took to 10 minutes to find my car and clamp it?” The woman clearly had her answer ready. “Because, Sir, it will make sure you don’t do it again.” The phone call ended.
I had no answer to her illogical logic. I also had no choice but to sit there for the next hour, watching people go by, pointing and smirking at the cheery green clamp on my tyre. I tried my best to disown the car, creeping off into a nice little garden opposite and sitting on a park bench, but after a while I decided it was more important not to miss the Parking van. I rested on the car, watching the world go by.
It was a couple of minutes later that the unkempt lady bowled up. Very short, with crooked teeth and even more crooked hair, she wandered over and stared at my car. “I’m not a drug addict, you know,” she stated, which immediately made me suspect her of being one. “Not a hooker either, but you can probably tell that,” she continued. “I’ve been beaten up by my husband in Bournemouth. Ran up here to get away, and now I have no money to get back.” Ah, I thought, there’s the money shot. She’s after funds for her next drinking session. I stared up the road, willing the Parking van to arrive as soon as possible. “Have you got eight pounds twenty pence?”.
Now, I’m not a regular London visitor. Could she be genuine, I wondered? She said she’d been to the social services but they wouldn’t help as she had no identification. Same with the Police, apparently. I interrogated her on all the possible avenues she could pick other than me, partly to work out what she was about and partly so that she couldn’t get any further before the van turned up. I explained I had no money to give her.
She looked at my car. “Maybe you could give me a lift?”
Well, this I had no answer to, other than being rude. Thankfully, my van in white armour turned up right on queue, careering round the corner and screeching to a halt beside my stricken car. Within thirty seconds the clamp was off, and it only took another 5 seconds before I was in my car, revving the engine and screeching off, eager to avoid the woman’s glare. I could hear her expletive-filled screams a couple of hundred metres down the road. As I looked in the mirror, I could see her take out a mobile phone and put it against her ear.
I think we can safely assume she was lying.

Favours for Favours

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As I sat in a 3 litre 5-series BMW at the Stoke crossroads in Guildford, tucked into some House of Commons Victorian Mints and mulled over on my recent lunch with Boris Johnson, a smile spread across my lips. This, I concluded, had been a very good month.
Let me explain, firstly, the vehicular privilege I’ve been dealt. Over the past couple of months, several people have been replacing their company cars at the office. Car dealerships have been eagerly offloading cars on a regular basis for the potential buyers to sample, the arrivals of which – for someone who isn’t due a new car for another year and a half – has been torture for me. Naturally and selfishly enough, I wanted a piece of the action – and every time a new car rolled up, I’ve been as helpful as possible to the Financial Manager, in the full knowledge that he is the Keeper Of The Car Keys. So far it’s been working unbelievably well. My current haul of week-long “test drives” includes two new BMW 3-series beasts, an Audi A4 and a Lexus GS300 which, despite the caramel colour of the exterior making it look like a large Werther’s Original, was far and away my favourite and typically way out of my league. The whole car thing has taught me a very vital lesson, though, and that is that just because a car has a BMW or an Audi badge doesn’t actually make it any better. My trusty Peugeot 407 does many things better than the BMW 3-series for far less money. I suppose its the wheeled equivalent of choosing designer clothes. No actual benefit, but less people point and laugh.
The BMW 5-series, though, is a corker. A definite first place tie with the Lexus. It is black, with a black leather interior. The car was my Managing Director’s before he left the company 10 days ago – and I spied it looking lonely and redundant in our office car park last Thursday afternoon. Cue a helpful computer-based favour for my Financial Manager and hey presto, the BMW keys were in my hands. I’ve been swanning around in it all weekend – showboating it at traffic lights, getting many “you can’t afford that” looks from passers-by and generally being a typically awful BMW driver. It’s been very useful to be on the receiving end of BMW-based abuse though. Firstly, it turns out that the car handles so well and makes you so confident that you can’t help but drive arrogantly. And secondly, it’s very easy to feel victimised. When people brush past the car, I half expect a vindictive key scrape down the side. Whenever I try to pull out of a junction, I have the disconcerting feel that everyone is ignoring me on purpose, and if they had their way I’d never be able to pull out at a junction. Still, it’s a small price to pay. Worryingly, I’m starting to like these cars…
And then there is Boris Johnson. Those who’ve been regulars will know that I am a big fan of Bozzer.
And as the amount of visitors to my Boriswatch site grow, it’s clear I’m not alone. In return for various geeky favours to Boris and his right-hand woman Melissa, I have the pleasure of popping up to London for lunch and a chat with them, usually dragging Simon B along for fun. I also visited the ITV studios for his chairing of the quiz show Have I Got News For You a few weeks ago (the report is here on Boriswatch). And now that David Cameron’s seen sense and promoted him, Boriswatch popularity is going through the roof, which puffs my geeky heart with pride.
So, all in all, a good month. I didn’t even mention the Stuff Magazine Show I visited in London (where Nick and I found several things we wanted that would drain our bank balances) or the old friend that presented Top Of The Pops. Maybe next time…

One Wild Night, Sometime Next Year

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I was poised on the “Find Tickets” button, having a fit of giggles. Ticketmaster had kindly allowed us to book tickets to a Bon Jovi concert a year early. However, the plan to book them wasn’t without obstacles. The venue, Wembley Stadium, had yet to be built. We had no idea if the venue would be built in time or even what the seating allocation would be. The ticket booking limit in one transaction was six, but we had eight eager and willing ticketholders waiting for the chance to seat next to each other and watch the magnificent Bon Jovi in action.
So, we hatched a plan. Jac and I would buy four tickets each, at the same time, and hopefully we would be allocated tickets if not next to each other, then pretty damn close. After tricking the Ticketmaster helpline into serving me a live helpdesk person instead of its automated service, we confirmed there was no way to group book, and all the gold and silver tickets were sold out. Not a happy moment. (By the way: if anyone wants to know how to do the Ticketmaster Trick, just phone 0870 4000700 and don’t type anything into the handset when you connect to the Ticketmaster helpline. It’ll soon tire of your ineptitude and shove you through to a call handler.)
Still, the plan had promise, and I phoned Jac up and prepared to click the website button that would allocate our tickets at almost identical times. Counting down from three, Jac and I were ready.
This was it. Our ticket allocations were about to digitally collide in union.
Jac’s call to action prompted our right hands – one in Harrow, one in Guildford – to simultaneously click the “find tickets” button, and over the next few minutes we feverishly typed in our details in unison, before finally submitting our payment and getting confirmation. Confirmation that we were going to attend one of the seminal moments in the opening week of one of the seminal stadiums in London with good friends either side.
So roll on Sunday 11th June 2006. Even if we do end up on different sides of the gargantuan stadium.