31 December 2006

The Fabulous Ms Angel is, er, fabulous

Went to see Space Ritual yet again last night (that's the third time in the last couple of months and the fourth time this year) at the Inn on The Green, Ladbroke Grove.

As you can see from the picture, I was right at the front in the middle (as usual) to get the best view of the band. It also meant that I had The Fabulous Ms Angel dancing just infront of me for most of the evening - well worth the £5 entrance fee on its own!

The set was much as usual but they seemed to play fewer songs while still delivering a two hour set. The absent songs included Spirit of the Age and Otherworld, both of which I missed greatly.

There was a set list for the evening (I took a photo of it) but they stopped following it about half way through for some reason. Perhaps because of this the gig fell apart a little, the individual songs were good but there was no momentum due to the gaps between them (not quite as bad a Tom Verlaine last year who retuned his guitar after every song). The end was also a littledisappointingg as the end was announced suddenly and there was no encore.

Space Ritual below par are still worth watching and I'm sure that I'll be seeing them again before too long.

28 December 2006

The Apple Shop is fantastic!

This was meant to be a cultural day out in London and I did manage to get them to spend a little time looking at old maps of London at the British Library but the highlight of the day for them was the traditional visit to the Apple Shop in Regent Street.

The main attraction of the shop is the ample opportunity to play with various bits of Apple technology. This includes the iMacs with built-in iSight that allow you to take photos of yourself (like this one of my two boys) and email them to yourself.

The Apple Shop also serves as a popular, and free, internet cafe as all the computers are online so while the boys were busy taking lots of photos of themselves I was able to check my email and spend my gold on Kings of Chaos!

26 December 2006

I got Absolute Sandman (Volume One) for Christmas!

Shopping for me was easy this year as all the reviewers said that The Absolute Sandman Volume One was a must-have, and they are right!

Neil Gaiman is now (rightly) famous for a lot more than Sandman but Sandman remains his master work and understandably so. I did not get into Sandman right away and only started buying the comic around issue #20 but, obviously, I have got all of the series in the ten collections.

So why get them again? Well, because the absolute edition is worth it! The absolute format is much larger which gives more impact to the visuals, particularly as they have been recoloured. It's also simply a good excuse to read all the stories again.

Musical journeys

It's two years now since I got my iPod Shuffle and I don't know how I managed without it! My journey to/from work each day takes about 75 minutes and this is now the main time that I listen to music and catch up with my favourite podcasts.

My regular podcasts are all from BBC Radio 4, and they are In Our Time, From Our Own Correspondent, In Business and The Now Show.

I can now listen to my new albums several times to get to know them and the ones currently on my iPod are the latest ones from Jarvis Cocker, Neil Young, Rammstein and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. I fill the iPod up with old favourites and at the moment I am listening again to Kingdom Come (pictured), Bjork, Placebo, Rainbow, Sparks and various others.

I always listen to my music in shuffle mode which means that 1) if it's a new album then I don't know which track I am listening to and 2) the tracks on an album get played a different number of times. I have evolved a practise which may seem a little anal but which works well for me. Once I have listened to a track from a new album 5 times, or from an old album 2 times, I remove it from the iPod and I add another album once there is space for it. This means that some tracks stay on there for several weeks before they get their 5th/2nd play which leads to a wide variety of music on the iPod but all of it specifically selected at some point.

The Now Show

The Now Show has been a stalwart of BBC Radio 4 comedy for several years for the simple reason that it is funny. I caught a few shows over the years but was not normally at home at a consistent time so was not a regular listener. That changed in early 2006 when The Now Show became part of the BBC's experiment with podcasts which means that I can now download each episode and listen to it when commuting. The rest of the family joins in, particularly Richard who has listened to some of the episodes over 50 times!

We went to the recording of their Christmas show as a family treat, and it really was a treat! I'd been to several TV recordings over the years (Killroy, Question Time, Dimbleby, Master Mind, Two Pints ..., etc.) but this was my first radio show and I found the differences quite interesting. The Now Show is recorded almost without interruption whereas all the TV recordings have been stop/start (particularly with the giggling in Two Pints ...!). There were a few retakes to do but they were all done at the end. The show was also a lot longer than the broadcast version. They recorded almost an hour for the half hour show and then cut it down to size afterwards.

As it was the Christmas show, there was mulled wine and mince pies for the audience so we stayed there for a little while. This gave us the opportunity to speak to Mitch Benn, John Holmes and Steve Punt, and to get their autographs. All of them were very approachable and were happy to speak for quite a while. A superb night out for the family and one we'll repeat when the new series starts in March.

25 December 2006

Hawkwind at the Astoria (December 2006)


I first saw Hawkwind play in Southampton in 1976 and have been to several gigs since then, including two with Julia in Bristol and the (then) Hammersmith Apollo.

For the last couple of years I have gone to their Christmas shows at the London Astoria. They remain a class act after all these years, though Bob Calvert is greatly missed on some of the songs.

The current line-up is as a four piece but they had Huw Lloyd Langton join them on a couple of songs. (Huw also played a few acoustic numbers as a support act.) The sound is still solid rock with their trademark spacey sounds over the top. The space fantasy theme is reinforced by the "dancers", as pictured above.

The set list covered most of their history including the latest album Take Me to Your Future. For me the standout songs were Psychedelic Warlords, Spirit of the Age and Orgone Accumulator.

I'm sure that I'll be at the Christmas do again next year and I'd like to catch some other tour dates too.

18 December 2006

Czech mates


One of the ways that the British Czech and Slovak Association shares knowledge of the culture of the three countries is through regular "get to know you" socials at the Czech and Slovak Club in West Hampstead, London.

At the gathering last week I followed my tradition by arriving early so that I could have some smazeny syr (cheese fried in breadcrumbs) in the restaurant before the getogether started and then staying until the end of the evening, which was when the bar closed at 11pm. The time in the middle was spent drinking Pilsner Urquell and enjoying the company of people who were linked by having some connection to the Czech and/or Slovak republics.

One of the people who came along worked with me in Prague around twelve years ago, we even shared a flat for a while out in Malesice, Prague 10.

Also there were a couple who were about to make the brave, but exciting, move out there. They had just found a flat to live in and were enthusiastically showing us where the flat was and photos of it. I must say that it all looked rather tempting. You can read more of their story here.

16 December 2006

Ideopolis


Went to an interesting Bath Club meeting entitled "What makes a successful city in the knowledge economy?" by Alexandra Jones, Associate Director, The Work Foundation which presented findings from their Ideopolis: Knowledge-City Regions research.

The key findings from the research were: Knowledge is more than science and technology; City-regions matter –real economic geography; Large cities matter; Knowledge drives economic success…but not necessarily quality of life; Not every city can or should become a knowledge city.

What may be a little surprising about this is that cities still lead economic activity, and larger cities more so, even though new technologies enable knowledge workers to work almost anywhere, including in rural areas and while on the move. The reason for this is the traditional strengths of cities, e.g. access to housing, leisure and other people.

As usual, what makes the Bath Club such a good event is not the presentation (though Alex Jones really knew her stuff) but the open discussion that follows it and then the conversations over cheese and wine that comes after that.

Ended the evening having a long and detailed discussion on business transformation in town planning with a well known consultant in that area who also happens to live and work in Lambeth.

13 December 2006

OpenOffice is great!

I admit that I am naturally anti-Microsoft but that's only for good reasons, their software is not very good and its very expensive for home users. All five of our home PCs are Microsoft-free zones as much as possible (sadly, three of them do use Windows); we use Mozilla software for browsing (Firefox), email (Thunderbird) and diaries (Sunbird) and we all use OpenOffice for documents, presentations and spreadsheets. It is really good software, it does cool stuff like creating PDFs, and it's free. Once you've tried it you'll never want to feed the Microsoft monster again. Buy me a beer with the money you saved instead!

 Use OpenOffice.org

11 December 2006

Our latest newsletter


Just in time for the Christmas post (for a change!) we've produced a family newsletter largely, and this is true, because people have been asking for one, having missed out last year due to our incompetence. If you want your own copy then email me for the pdf.

I have a sister!


My sister complained that she has not been mentioned in my blog and I am happy to correct the oversight. This picture of the two of us was taken in the garden of our bungalow in Maiden Newton around 1963. Neither of us has changed very much since then.

8 December 2006

Leaving Lambeth, (re)joining LogicaCMG

Well... working for local government again did not quite work out as I hoped and so, just like last time, I'm off to Logica, only now they are called LogicaCMG and have a management consultancy division.

In the last couple of years I have turned down a few job offers, and not been made a few that I was expecting, but LogicaCMG went very smoothly. I had my first interview in late September and we hit it off so well that we skipped the second interview and went straight for the third and final interview, but I felt then that I had the job and that I wanted it.

The third interview was in early October and was more of a chat than anything else, though some of the questions were rather probing and challenging! I was even more convinced that I wanted to join LogicaCMG when my interviewer sketched out a 2x2 matrix, which is just the sort of thing that I do during discussions.

The offer came soon after but it made little sense to move just before the Christmas break and so we agreed on a start date of 8 January. This meant that I knew that I was leaving almost two months before I handed my notice in. I resigned on Thursday and, subject to final confirmation, my last day at Lambeth will be Friday 22 December and I will then have my 7 remaining days holiday over Christmas and New Year.

And things get even better; I got an email from LogicaCMG today inviting me to the New Year conference on 5 January (i.e. before I officially join them) which I am looking forward to.

Thunderbird is go!

It's about time that I used this blog to promote open software!

Most people will have heard of the Firefox browser (and quite a lot of people now use it) but the Thunderbird email client also deserves a mention.

I have to use Outlook every day at work but I use Thunderbird at home simply because it is better. Superficially they are much the same and behave much the same way but Thunderbird gives you that much more.

The single biggest advantage of Thunderbird to me is the search facility that is on every screen.

This lets you filter the folder that you are looking at (e.g. the inbox) by a character string in the subject or sender's email address. So, for example, to see all the emails that I've got from the local council (I get lots of these), I simply type "rbk" in the filter box - no extra windows!

I tag emails in to groups, such as those relating to a specific organisation that I belong to (I usually identify the appropriate group from the sender's email address but there are other ways to do this), and I can also use these tags to filter my emails, e.g. to see just those that relate to a specific organisation.

How much do I like Thunderbird?! Enough to buy the t-shirt!

5 December 2006

Kingston Area Travellers' Association


I have been a member of Kingston Area Travellers' Association (KATA) since it was formed in 1991 as I am a passionate believer in, and heavy user of, public transport. I have not owned a car for some years (since I gave my IBM company car back at the end of its four year lease) and have never thought seriously about getting another one.

Public transport in London is pretty good and getting better, particularly the buses which are growing in numbers of routes, frequency of service and hours of operation. The train service from Richmond to London is very good too with a frequent and fast service. All this means that I don't have to think about which bus or train to aim for in the morning as there are plenty.

Good as this is, Prague was better! In the mornings I had as many as three buses in a minute and the buses took me to Zelivskeho which was a stop on the metro and tram routes. The metro only had three fairly short lines but the trains were very fast so you can get into the town centre quickly. The trams meander more so the whole city is well served and so getting around is simple.

I use public transport on holiday (no hire cars either) and I am particularly fond of the trams in Bratislava and Riga and the trains in Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.

Hopefully the increasing investment in public transport in London (partially funded by the Congestion Charge) will make things even better here and give us a transport system worthy of one of the world's major cities.

3 December 2006

Piggy Goes Oink


When I started this blog I thought that I would be writing lots of stuff about being a school governor, Knowledge Management, politics, architecture, travel, etc., but here's another post on Two Pints...!

It's Sunday evening and I've got back from the pub just in time to catch the double bill on BBC Three, it's the start of series 4 and I'm about to watch the mega-classic "Piggy Goes Oink". Wicked!

I am very pleased that somebody very senior at the BBC is reading this blog; obviously they have read my last entry on Two Pints ... so the last episode of series 6 has been followed by the first episode of series 3, which I said was the high point of the six series.

Together in Electric Dreams



Not my usual sort of concert (i.e. full-on rock) but going to see the Human League seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was! I went with Pete, as usual, who made no allowance for the "gay disco" atmosphere and wore his usual jeans, t-shirt and black jacket whereas I made an effort and wore some smart casual trousers and a Liberty pattern (Hera, actually) shirt. Everybody else was wearing jeans and t-shirts :-(

We didn't fancy the support band very much so set off from Ham at 7:30 and got to the Shepherds Bush Empire an hour later, just as the support was finishing. The Human League came on at 9pm and played for about an hour and a half.

The set was very much a greatest hits collection with several tracks off Dare and other well-known stuff like The Lebanon, a highlight of the evening. There were only one or two tracks that I did not recognise and it's possible that these came from their latest album, Secrets, which I do own but can't remember! The main set ended with the singalong classic "Don't you want me Baby" and the final encore was the equally catchy "Together in Electric Dreams".

Despite the familiar tunes the crowd was fairly static and even though we were in whatever the dance equivalent of the mosh pit is there was little more than a bit of side-to-side swaying, which was fine with me because that's about the limit of my dancing.

The journey home was a pig thanks to a "passenger incident" on the District Line. Ended up catching a bus back from Hammersmith which went through parts of west London that I had never been to before. Luckily it was Friday so the pubs in Richmond were open to 12pm (or later) and so we managed to get a couple of pints of Discovery in before finally going home.

2 December 2006

Knowledge Management (KM)

Knowledge Management (KM) has been an interest of mine since work at IBM around ten years ago alongside the KM practice and it just struck me immediately as being "right"; though what KM actually is is a difficult thing to pin down. For me it's about getting the right information to the right people at the right time and this can be done directly (e.g. by making the information easily available over an intranet or internet) or indirectly (e.g. by providing the time and space for people to interact so that they can share their knowledge).

Taking this definition of KM means that it covers a wide range of topics covering all aspects of technology and sociology. Initially KM was technology led (largely thanks to the IT suppliers) and focused on things like intranets, search engines, directories of skills and interests, etc. This approach proved to be of limited value except in a few simple cases (e.g. electronic libraries of case law) and the more recently the focus has moved towards the people end of things which is more challenging, more effective and more interesting.

My involvement in KM these days mostly involves going to events like the Gurteen KM Cafes and the TFPL Bath Club. Both of these events are always stimulating and provide interesting new insights. And the company of my fellow KMers is a treat too.

Pizza Express is where we always go


Tuesday was Howard's 16th birthday and so we went out for a family meal in the evening. As usual the only question was which branch of Pizza Express we should go to; Kingston or Richmond. Howard chose Richmond because it is more posh!

Pizza Express is also our restaurant of choice if we are out in London, at the theatre or something. We have been to the branches at Waterloo, Charing Cross, Covent Garden, Soho and several others.

Eating in Pizza Express has been a ritual for some years now. Rick always does the ordering as the only decision is which pizzas Julia and I will have (which does not take very long and we normally decide on the way there) and whether we should have a half or a full bottle of Pinot Grigio.

There has been a slight change in the order over the years as the boys have got bigger and have gone from sharing a pizza between then, then having one each, then sharing a portion of doughballs for starters and now having a portion of doughballs each.

We keep going back to Pizza Express because the food is always good and the restaurants have a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. And as long as it stays that way we will keep going there.

26 November 2006

The Right Stuff


I made an almost last minute decision to go and see Space Ritual in Ladbroke Grove last night and was well rewarded.

The set list was much as it was at the 100 Club earlier this month but the venue was even more intimate (I got hit by Miss Angel's wings more than once) and there was a light show too.

Sadly I had to leave the venue around 00:15, when the band were still playing, to avoid being stranded in West London for the night.

British Association for Central and Eastern Europe

The British Association for Central and Eastern Europe (BACEE) works to promote a closer understanding between the British people and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and to support the institutions of a civil society that are a fundamental requirement if the ambition of EU membership of many of those states is to be fulfilled.

It does this by means of seminars, study visits, conferences and round tables designed to share the British experience of democratic systems and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and experience across the borders of countries within the region.

My interest in Central and Eastern Europe has grown out of my original interest in Czechoslovakia from the time when I lived and worked there. I joined BACEE a couple of years ago because they run a series of interesting talks at the offices off Victoria.

The most recent talk was, 'The City and Central Europe' by Sir Gavyn Arthur. Sir Gavyn was Lord Mayor of London in 2002-03. He was called to the Bar, Middle Temple in 1975, practiced as a barrister from 1977 and has been a Recorder since 2002. Among his many interests he is a member of the Anglo-Austrian Society, the British Ukrainian Law Society and the Three Faiths Forum.

The main points that I took from the talk were that the city has circa 4 trillion dollars to invest a year but the demand for investment far outstrips supply so investors have plenty of choice on where to place their money. A key factor in their choice is the commercial standing of the country (degree of corruption and bureaucracy etc.) and the judiciary plays a key role in ensuring that commercial operations function fairly.

A convincing argument well put by Sir Gavyn who also illustrated his talk with many anecdotes from his work in Central and Eastern Europe. An entertaining and an instructive talk; who could ask for more?

The Faith Healers


No apologies for another post about the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Saw them again at the Electric Ballroom in London and it was the best gig of theirs that I have seen, and I've seen eight this year alone!

The set list was the same as at The Brook a few days earlier but the band seemed to gel even better, Max made none of his trademark gaffes, and the sound was better with Hugh's keyboards more pronounced than usual.

There also seemed to be a better mix of music and showmanship with the show side of things enhancing the music rather than competing with it as it has done at times in the past. Max (again) is a key part of this and is now the consummate front-man and the perfect foil for the tight, raucous sound from the band.

25 November 2006

Another good party



The Annual Dinner of the British Czech and Slovak Association was a blast, as always. The reason is simple, you get a group of people together who have a common interest in the Czech and/or Slovak republics and mix this with good food, wine and beer (Budvar, of course) and everybody mixes well and the evening ends with a flurry of exchanges of email addresses.

I was on the same table as Tony and Gina who are often to start a new life in Prague. You can read more about this on Tony's blog. People that I was pleased to meet for the first time last night include Paula and Daniela.

It's a year until the next dinner but there is also the summer garden party to look forward to and the regular socials at the Czech and Slovak House in West Hampstead.

23 November 2006

Ms Angel and me


The Space Ritual website has this photo of their exotic dancer, Ms Angel. It says, " Miss Angel - simply too fabulous to be caught on film".

But it neglects to mention who the handsome chap in the Sensational Alex Harvey Band t-shirt in the front row is :-))

Update August 2013:A lot has happened over the last seven years and Ms Angel and I always swap a few words, and a hug, when we meet. This is reasonably often as she now also dances with Arthur Brown who, like Space Ritual, is one of the performers that I go to see whenever I can.

More pints ...



The Guardian cartoon "Clare in the community" has recognised Two Pints' domination of BBC 3. I think that this is a good thing because I do not have to buy the DVDs :-)

Read more of the excellent Clare in the community here.

19 November 2006

Zaligator

I went to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band play at The Brook in Southampton and they were sensational!

The set had quite a few changes from the "greatest hits" sets of the last two years. Out were Isobel Goudie, Tomahawk Kid, Next, Framed and the usual encore, Delilah and in came Tale of the Giant Stoneater, Amos Moses, Jungle Jenny and Runaway.

"Zaligator" was Max's description of Zal Cleminson after playing Amos Moses. Could this be the title of the next album following on from "Zalvation", another of Max's inventions?

As seems to be normal these days the band were really up for it with lots of broad grins and audience interaction. I'm still not sure how I managed to avoid getting a mike stand in my face thanks to Max's extravagant use of it!

The gig left me gagging for more, which is OK as I am seeing them again on Tuesday at the Electric Ballroom in Camden.

16 November 2006

Two Pints ...


Two Pints .... may well be the most often broadcast programme on BBC ever! I'm not sure why that is but I'm not complaining and have been known to watch four episodes in an evening.

Why watch it?

Well, to be simplistic, it's very funny.

Most of the humour comes from the characters and the very rich dialogue, there's something funny in almost every line - and there are lots of lines!

I just like the little throw-aways that litter the scripts, e.g. "I'm so happy I could kick a puppy".

It's hard to pick out favourite bits because there are just so many but I can possibly narrow it down a little to the end of Series 3 and the start of Series 4. I can watch any of these episodes anytime, which is just as well given the bizarre way that the BBC repeats them.

Full details of the cast and summaries of all 54 episodes across 6 series can be found here.

7 November 2006

Canbury Arms


Obviously I cannot mention all the pubs that I go to, otherwise I'll be writing non-stop, but there are a few that are worth a mention, and the Canbury Arms in Kingston upon Thames is one of them.

There are several things that I like about the pub; it's bright and clean (e.g. no smoking indoors and no piped music), it has a great range of beers (Old Hookey, Sussex, Landlord, Doomsomethingorother, etc.) and a mixed clientelle (e.g. women!). It also does pretty good food though, as a vegetarian, the choice is somewhat limited.

The main groups that go there are couples having a special meal, middle-aged women having a girls night out and students beging students outside where smoking is allowed. If this sounds like you then you should give it a try.

See beer in the evening for more info.

4 November 2006

Space Ritual

Space Ritual do what it says on the tin, they play lots of stuff from Hawkwind's classic 70s album of the same name. They also play other Hawkwind numbers and a fair amount of their own material. All this got the crowd really rocking at London's 100 Club on Friday night.

They came on at 9:30 and finally left the stage at midnight (forcing many of us to rush for the last tube home) having played 15 songs, that's an average of 10 minutes each! The whole feel of the evening is that of an extended jam with a glorious mix of sounds from the many instuments on stage.

The Hawkwind favourites, particularly the final encore Orgone Accumulator, where the obvious highlights but there own new material and the rarer Hawkwind songs fitted in well. I was particularly please to hear Steppenwolf from Amazing Sounds, Amazing Music. The much missed Robert Calvert got a couple of mentions during the evening.

The 100 Club has quite a small stage which only just had enough space for the seven band members, a dancer, The Fabulous Ms Angel, and a guest saxophonist on a couple of songs. It's also a low stage so, as you can tell from the photo, you can get really close to the band. Magic!

2 November 2006

TWAU on Thursday


One of my rituals is to go to The Walk Among Us in Richmond on my way home from work on Thursday evenings as that is the day that the comics come in. I have a regular order which I try to keep down to what I can read in a week - something I always fail in and so the unread pile of comics is gradually going. The respite comes when I take my youngest son to a chess tournament, he plays chess all day and I read comics all day - that's a result!

Not many comics in this week so I may be able to read them all before the next lot come in (who am I trying to kid?!).

The Incredible Hulk #100 is the top of this week's crop and it's massive. I've really enjoyed the Planet Hulk storyline so it's good to see that this week's issue is part 1 of 4.

Also worth a mention is Mystery in Space simply because it's written by Jim Starlin and I read everything that he does. Warlock is one of my all time favourite comics and sitting somewhere in my to-be-read pile is a signed copy of the Dreadstar hardback.

28 October 2006

Sensational

It's time to pay homage to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Some of you may recall them from their regular appearances on The Old Grey Whistle Test, others may remember the hit singles Delilah and Boston Tea Party and some their headlining performance at the Reading Festival.

The great news is that after a whole heap of troubles and other projects they are back on CD, DVD and, most importantly, back on the road playing a blistering set.

Obviously the biggest change since the '70s is that Alex Harvey died and has been superseded by a number of singers culminating with Max Maxwell.

Max has phenomenal stage presence and really leads the band from the front (though the guys at the back sometimes have to remind him what's going on!).

The new DVD and CD are both called Zalvation and while they are from the same tour (2004) they are from different gigs so it's worth getting both.

Find out more about SAHB here.

Please go and see them live, you will not be disappointed.

Day One

I've worked in the IT industry for 25+ years and written articles for several publications over the years so I felt that it was time to start a blog.

I was partially shamed into this when sharing a few Czech beers in West Hampstead on Thursday evening with, amongst others, Tony who has been blogging for some time, and he's a chemistry teacher!

Now that I've finally got this thing set up I expect that future postings will cover music, education, Czech and Slovak affairs, architecture, politics and local pubs.

I will mostly be writing for my own benefit, to keep a record of what I have done and thought, and if anybody else finds anything I write interesting then that is a bonus.