31 March 2007

My collection of Liberty ties

Listening to a timesonline podcast on sensory branding this week got me think about what image best described me and I soon came up with Liberty ties as I have worn one to work almost every day over the last twenty years or more.

This picture is part of one of my three tie racks in my wardrobe and shows a few of the Tana Lawn (cotton) collection.

I've not counted my Tana Lawn ties but a rough calculation says it is over a hundred.

Another rack holds the silk Liberty ties that are kept back for special occasions; work stopped being a special occasion years ago. I only have about fifty of those!

It's a random assortment of colours and styles that happens to include some very traditional patterns, e.g. Hera (a.k.a. peacock feathers) and Ianthe, as well as some newer designs, such as the two stripey ones in the top left of the picture.

There are also quite a few bow-ties in there and there was a time when these were what I wore to work most of the time but fashions change and it is rare to see somebody in a bow-tie these days. I do still wear them sometimes, and not just at Glyndebourne either.

I cycle through the ties in a rough sequence so that I do not wear the same one twice in a short period. It sounds a bit sad, and it probably is, but it makes the task of deciding which tie to wear each day a lot easier as I only have to choose from the ties on the current or next bar of the current rack rather than considering all the bars on all three racks.

Only once have I gone to work wearing exactly the same tie as somebody else, that was a green and yellow Hera in 1991, though I often see somebody wearing a Liberty tie that I own.

27 March 2007

The Saint books by Leslie Charteris

My first encounters with The Saint were with the Roger Moore series in black and white in the mid to late sixties and I came across the books my chance. Our neighbour was clearing stuff out following the death of her father and wondered if the young boy next door would like The First Saint Omnibus. I did, and 35 years or so later I still have it, only now I have almost all the other Saint books too (including those based on the TV series which were not written by Charteris).

My favourite editions are the yellow Hodder and Stroughton books (pictured) which I like for their simplicity (later editions have full artwork), the stick-man and the period look.

The Saint is an impossibly good hero; he can run, swim, pilot a plane, shoot, throw a knife, drive fast, escape Houdini-like, pick locks, and disguise himself. And all this on a practice routine that seems to consist almost entirely of drinking cocktails and smoking. But while the character is a little far-fetched the books are a great read.

The Saint stories fall into various periods (e.g. the early London stories featuring Inspector Claude Eustace Teal and the later globe-trotting adventures) but the writing style is consistent and combines a good plot, very descriptive prose and some laugh-out-loud humour. Just the sort of thing you need on the train to Reading!

22 March 2007

Fighting for fair funding for schools

One of the education committees that I am on is looking at the funding of deprivation in schools in Kingston upon Thames, an issue I have been very interested in for several years because I have been convinced that our most needy children are not getting the funding that they deserve. Now I have proof.

This chart shows (blue line) the relative deprivation on our schools based on the eligibility of pupils for Free School Meals (FSM) and (purple line) the funding they get to meet that need. In both cases the graphs are scaled so that the most needy is school is 100%.

What this shows very clearly is that almost every school gets proportionally more funding for deprivation than the most needy school. Only one school is funded below the line of actual need (they get 65% of what they should) but most are significantly above, typically getting four times more funding than need. One school gets nine times.

The graph is simple but I never underestimate people's inability to understand simple arguments when they don't like the result so I will believe in fair funding when we finally get it. The government, via the DfES, is starting to kick councils like Kingston upon Thames for not funding deprivation properly, and is currently consulting on the subject, so there is some home that even this backwater may be spurred into action one day. Our children need this to happen.

17 March 2007


Podcasts, like blogs, have now become a major source of news and information for me, so much so that I rarely read newspapers and magazines these days. I subscribe to several podcasts on iTunes and listen to them when travelling to/from work, which is two hours each way at the moment giving me plenty of time for listening!

I tend to listen to podcasts on technology, current affairs and social history.

IBM is a good source of podcasts on technology and on its impact on business and the ones that I am subscribed to currently are IBM Global Innovation Outlook, IBM developerWorks, IBM Innovations, IBM Institute for Business Value: Insights and Perspectives, and ShortCuts.

The BBC is where I get most of my other podcasts from and I am listening to From Our Own Correspondent, In business, In our time (pictured), and The Now Show.

Also worth a mention are the excellent TEDTalks. The conference speakers are top-notch, e.g. Al Gore, Richard Dawkins and, er, Bono. They generally address big issues, like the climate crisis or urban regeneration, but some are also very funny so be careful when listening to these on the train. I liked Al Gore's description of how his life has changed as having spent eight years travelling on Air Force Two he now has to take his shoes off to get on a plane!

13 March 2007

Michael Gordon's Industry is Unclassifiable (according to iTunes)

Some years ago I read a short review of an album called Industry by Michael Gordon in Q Magazine and was interested enough to give it a go and I've been buying music like that ever since. I call it modern classical music, but iTunes calls it unclassifiable, which may be more accurate!

Because it's "unclassifiable" it's hard to describe but it has elements of "real" classical music, minimalism and inde rock (think Radiohead etc.). Luckily, while it may be hard to describe, it is quite easy to find as Bang on a Can has nothing else but this sort of music.

I tend to buy most things they do, particularly anything by Michael Gordon, and it's his Decasia (pictured here) that's my favourite of the lot.

And I was lucky enough to catch one of their rare European concerts last year where their main band, the Band on a Can All-stars, performed with the very interesting, very lovely and very strange Iva Bittova. Highly recommended!

11 March 2007


For a blog I call "Ham Life" I've said remarkably little about Ham so far so now's the time to redress that.

Quite often on Saturday morning I get dragged out by the youngest brat for a walk and this week was no exception. We set off around 7:30am, rather later than usual, and set off on our normal route which takes us across Ham Common, along the bridle path and then down to Ham House. These railings are in one corner of the grounds.

Just past Ham House is the river and we walk along this to Richmond where I get to have a latte and the chance to warm up.

Sane people would catch the bus home, but we walk. There are various routes back and this week we went through Richmond Park, entering at Dysart Gate and leaving at Ham Gate. Then it's a short walk through the wooded part of Ham Common and home in time for breakfast.

8 March 2007

Regent's Park at lunchtime

One of the nice things about my new workplace is that it's close to Regent's Park so, on sunny days like today, I have somewhere nice to walk to at lunchtime.

The only problem with the park is the pollution. It does not matter where you go in the park you simply cannot get away from the joggers, most of whom should know better.

The BT Tower is visible in the background to the left of the fountain and somewhere in my Flickr album is a photo taken from the observation deck there.

5 March 2007

... and he marched them down again

This is a picture of the famous roof at York station where I went this morning. Unfortunately I was meant to be going to Newcastle but only made it as far as York because a power failure on the line had brought the service north of York to a halt.

After considering various options it was decided that it would be easiest (?) if I went back to London and tried again tomorrow so I now have another 5am start to look forward to!

4 March 2007

Watching films on TV

This cartoon by Nemi (written and drawn by Lise Myhre) rang true with me when I read it back in December because I am always watching things on TV that I have on DVD.

Recently I watched Under Siege, which is one of my very favourite films, on Film4 then watched the ending again on Film4+1. Then, a couple of days, ago I watched Aliens (the best of the four Alien films) and tonight it was Jack and Sarah. Tomorrow night I plan to watch I, Robot too.

So that's a Steven Segal action movie, a horror flick, a British romcom and a scifi film; that must say something about my artistic tastes!

3 March 2007

Ben Elton, Get a Grip

Get a Grip is a new comedy show from Ben Elton which will be on ITV in a few weeks and last night I went to watch the recording of the first two episodes at Teddington Studios, which is about 15 minutes walk from where I live.

The format of the show is essentially normal Ben Elton being a long whinge on an aspect of modern life. The difference this time is that the usual monologue is now a dialogue with Alexa Chung (pictured) playing a second-fiddle role as the feisty babe to contrast Ben's grumpy old man. This format seems rather outdated now and has been done much better elsewhere, e.g. Des and Mel, and almost every programme on Radio 5.

As with many of his previous TV shows, the rant is populated by some brief sketches that reinforce the point that he is trying to make. These were generally OK but added little to the punchline that you had already heard.

Disappointingly the show is amusing rather than funny, though it may tighten up in the edits. It still sounds like a Ben Elton stand-up session but it sounds heavily scripted, they even retook sections where minor fluffs made the conversation sound more natural. And Alexa's delivery was particularly wooden. She must be in the show for her looks.

For some reason that never became clear, the set is Ben and Alexa sitting behind desks looking like newsreaders, they even had folders and pens on the desks though these were never used. I would have preferred a more informal setting for the dialogue, something more like Skinner and Baddiel's sofa.

It's a shame that the show is so unfunny as Ben Elton clearly is funny and he demonstrated it again and again on the night with his comments when off camera. He should have more confidence on his own ability and rely less on precise scripts.

The evening was rescued by a visit to the pub next door, The Anglers, which is always worth a visit as it has a good range of beers and a lively clientele.

1 March 2007

London, then and now

One of the (many) nice things about no longer working for Lambeth Council in Brixton is that I now have things to do at lunchtime and today I went to the British Library to look at their exhibition of maps of London.

One of the nice things they have done for this exhibition is to make some of the maps available online as layers in Google Earth. This means that, for example, you can overlay the maps with modern satellite images, do all the Google Earth stuff with rotation and zoom etc., and also phase the maps in and out by changing their translucency. Magic!

And another thing about being back in London proper is being able to go to Pret a Manger for lunch. This week's veggie special is "mostly mozzarella" which is my favourite sandwich so I have had one every day.