31 May 2010

Petersham Open Gardens 2010

Petersham Village (exact location open to dispute) had an open gardens day recently that allowed me to pry into and enjoy several private gardens. The morning was rushed, due to an appointment at Glyndebourne later the same day, but I managed to get to all the important gardens in the two short hours that I had.

A much anticipated newcomer to the open gardens scheme was Montrose House famous locally as the former home of Tommy Steele.

A large part of the garden can be seen from the top deck of the 65 bus so the large lawn, terrace area, ruined castle and tennis courts were not a surprise.

What was unexpected was the large wild area in the far corner well away from the road and hidden from the rest of the garden by a line of trees.

It is a wonderful contrast to the formality of the rest of the garden which is strewn with a large number of statues of children, geese, sheep, a monkey, a heron and a man on a donkey. There may have been more that I missed. These fake signs of life brought action to the garden where there was none.

I had been to Elm Lodge, once the residence of Charles Dickens, before and had not intended to go back to it this time but it was on the way to another garden and my recollection of it was that it was worth a quick revisit.

And it was.

The lodge sits in the middle of the garden and there is something to see on every side, including from chickens and pigs that are grown for home use.

My favourite section is the shady north side where a tiered water feature adds interest, coolness and a steady trickling sound to detract from the hum of the cars on the nearby road.

I also love the fact that it is black, accepting that it is in a dark area and choosing to make the most of that rather than trying to deny the fact with brash colour.

Watching over the top level of the pond are two motionless herons.

One stands out in the open on the edge of the pool relying on its dark metallic finish to keep it hidden.

The other is painted brightly and so chooses the long grass for its cover.

The keen observer can just make out the steady head patiently pointed at the pond for the fish that are never to come to satisfy a hunger that will never be there.

The appropriate stillness of the herons helps to seal the tranquillity of this corner of the garden.

My clear favourite of the gardens is a complete contrast to the established mature gardens of the old lodges and manors.

The Glass House is a relatively new building and it has the garden to match.

The main part, that sits between two wings of the house, is a formal courtyard with an unbelievably pristine lawn in the centre surrounded by white walls on all four sides.

Planted against these is a wonderful collection of architectural plants with deep green leaves that use the white to show off their shapes proudly.

Benches on each side allow you to rest and look across the garden from different perspectives and to keep away from the bleaching sun as it parades around the Summer sky.

I will be back to enjoy these, and the other gardens great and small, next time the kind people of Petersham thrown open their gates. This really is a treat worth waiting two years for.

29 May 2010

London elephants

I've not being paying much attention to the recent arrival of decorated elephants across London but they are rather hard to ignore and I have found around a dozen this week without trying to.

They are pretty and charming and quirky in a very English way and, being elephants, there is a strong call back to our colonial days when the map of the world was pink and only mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the midday sun.

Many of the elephants are in areas popular with tourists, such as the two outside of St Paul's, which means they are decked with people smiling widely at their friends taking photos of them. I don't like taking pictures of people so I left those elephants well alone.

Venturing to Soho Square and the story is different. Here the busy square is full of locals who are used to seeing the exotic and the unusual and are equally used to paying little attention to it. This is London, it has everything and so nothing can be said to be truly unusual here.

So here the colourful elephant sits almost unnoticed and only I am uncool enough to play the tourist and to take a picture of it. But having been a tourist for just a minute, the camera goes back into my pocket and I slide into Oxford Street and become a Londoner again.

25 May 2010

LIKE 13 - Record keeping in the 21st century

LIKE 13 was another success, despite my involvement.

The speaker was James Lapping, well known in the world of Records Management and also on the terraces of Sutton where James and I had both been the previous evening to watch Kingstonian play.

For reasons unknown to me, the LIKE ladies asked me to chair the evening so the encounter in Sutton enabled us to agree the finer points of the schedule.

My reward for being chair for the evening was that I got to wear a LIKE badge, but not a t-shirt. And I had to give the badge back at the end of the evening!

I had crossed paths with James several times previously, e.g. at TFPL events, but had never heard him speak before and I had no real idea of what to expect. What we got was an exceptionally well argued and presented story on Records Management that ended with more questions than answers on how to cope in a world of emails, blogs, instant messages and tweets.

It's unfair to pull just a few gems out of the talk but I did take plenty of notes (forgetting I was meant to be chairing not participating) and this is some of them.

For most of the history of records they have been written on paper and kept in files. Innovations came in index systems, filing cabinets, folders and even paper but the underlying technology and processes remained unchanged.

Records begat Records Management, not the other way round.

Physical records (pieces of paper) demand to be filed as they occupy space in the office and have to be put somewhere.

Electronic records are completely different and there is no point trying to treat them as if they were physical records (take note Microsoft!).

It's OK to spend a minute to correctly file a document that you spent a day writing but you are not going to do that for a tweet that took just a few seconds.

The vast increase in records of all sorts, from blogs to photos on sites like Flickr, are making history a lot firmer than it used to be even just a decade ago.

The underlying philosophy behind Records Management still stand, e.g. the need to keep and retrieve records, is still valid and we need to teach people the basics of this rather then letting each person develop their own individual methods.

James said a lot more than that and you can read a fuller version of his argument on his blog.

After the talk the social side of LIKE kicked in with food, more beer and more conversations that continued until quite late in the evening. That's why LIKE is my favourite KM event.

24 May 2010

New glasses

One of the reasons that I keep this blog is to record momentous events in my life that I may well want to refer back to in the future. Such as getting new glasses.

This may seem trivial but opticians, like dentists and other shunned professionals, are always asking me "when did you last ..." questions and I never know the answer. But now I can look it up.

I've been running this blog for about 3 1/2 years so I guess that my glasses were a little older than that and were due for replacement as my eyes will have changed a little over that period. They were also so scratched it was like walking through fog all the time.

And I'd broken them too.

A new pair of glasses in the house prompted me to dig out all the old cases and old broken pairs that I had kept just in case.

My new glasses are at the front and happen to be by Jaegar but the selection process had nothing to do with the brand. I like them and they fit. End of.

In the middle are my previous pair, by Prada, and behind them is another broken pair of uncertain pedigree.

In the front-right are the oldest pair which I am keeping because they are not broken. They were a spare pair I got for free many years ago with the intention of using them for driving, hence the large lenses. They are not fit to be worn in public!

Glass cases are more durable than the glasses themselves so I have some surviving for glasses that I no longer recall. I also bought a couple of other ones from Muji and Liberty, those were brand purchases.

The arrival of the new glasses is duly logged and I can now bring order to this aspect of my life and the broken glasses and unnecessary cases are destined for the bin. Might just keep the Prada case though.

21 May 2010

Social Computing in the Enterprise Comes of Age

Given my personal interest in KM and my employment in the IT industry, I was clearly going to be attracted to a talk on Social Computing in the Enterprise, E2.0 if you will.

Social Computing has been a phenomenal success in private lives and we are all aware of things like Facebook, Twitter and blogging even if we don't all use them ourselves. The challenge is to take this enthusiasm and collaboration through the corporate firewalls so that the people who pay for our time can reap some of the benefits that we ourselves get.

It was the bold promise that this has come of age that most attracted me to the talk and I was hoping to hear compelling case studies of how leading-edge organisations are already making good use of web2.0 tools. Unfortunately we were given some bland promises of tangible business benefits bit no real evidence of them and certainly nothing we could take to sceptical executives in our own organisations.

What we did get was a basic, but useful for the uninitiated, introduction to what E2.0 is that while not challenging was interesting enough to sustain and hour's talk.

Then came the networking, wine and nibbles and the evening picked-up the pace. I spent most of that time talking to people I know mainly from the LIKE and Gurteen events and it was good to have more time for this and to be able to compare the events.

Overall it was not a great night out but it was certainly not a bad one either and I'll be on the look-out for more BCS events like this.

18 May 2010

Off to Hampton Hill

London truly is a collection of villages each with its own identities and prejudices. And like most locals I can see all the attractions of my own area and all the faults with others.

Because of this I have previously been tempted to spend any time in Hampton Hill despite it being just a couple of miles away.

The prospect of some new gardens changed my mind and I headed off there by bike choosing to take the longer but much prettier route through Bushy Park.

Three gardens were on offer and they were an interesting combination; one was packed with flowers and shrubs, one was packed with one of the oddest assortments of outdoor decorations that I have ever seen and one was large, luxurious and languid.

This last garden not only offered a glass of wine to drink but also a bewildering collection of seats in which to relax in while doing so.

It also had this frog.

If this was my garden then the frog would have been a pivotal feature but here he had been banished to a greenhouse and seems to accept this as fair punishment for some nefarious deed.

The wine, comfy seats and frog meant that I lingered there longer than intended and had to cycle home the quick way along the main road to and through Teddington and then over the lock.

This helped to remind me why I live where I do surrounded by wild open spaces that are a far cry from the common suburban ribbon development that conspires to make town centres all look much the same. This reinforcement of my previous prejudices was tempered by my experience of the gardens just enough for me to consider venturing that way again. Or even to Isleworth.

13 May 2010

St Pancras Old Church

It's hard to resist the temptation to escape at lunchtime to wander along the canal that trickles past our London office and I give in to this temptation as often as possible.

Time usually limits me to quick walk east to the shops and, of course, Pret a Manager but when time allows it is much better to head west past St Pancras Lock.

After the lock it is normally Camley Street Natural Park that grabs my attention but just beyond this is another attraction, St Pancras Old Church.

The church is just a few metres away from the new St Pancras International Terminal but it looks and feels a world away. This is what village churches are meant to look like and I guess that this is just what it was once.

And it still has a church yard too.

These gravestones packed tightly around an old tree show that the land there has been under pressure but the church has fought its end well and the church yard has triumphed over the onslaught of development.

It is also unnaturally quiet despite the proximity of more railway lines than any young boy could dream of.

I suspect that this is because the great evil, the motor car, is largely absent. Perhaps when all the oil and cars have gone everywhere will be as quiet and restful as this. I can dream too.

The church yard has some monuments too and the main one has tiered flower beds that are now bursting with colour.

Looking after the park is a collection of tall solid brick buildings that seem to be jealous of the older church but they have their own beauty and should be more proud of themselves.

They were, and maybe still are, hospital buildings but their original function was not an excuse not to be decorative, unlike today, and the simple regular design with the two colours of brick are reassuring and pleasing.

It takes just a few moment to walk around the park, even at a respectful leisurely pace, but it is a few moment well spent and you emerge in to the modern world just a little older but a lot more ready to face whatever that world wants to throw at you.

9 May 2010

Local gardens in Spring

With the arrival of Spring comes the open garden season and I've been busy, despite the painful weather over the last couple of weekends.

Ham House is the local National Trust property and is always worth a visit. I can now get in for free so my occasional visits are becoming more frequent and more spontaneous.

The nice thing about Ham House for me is the way that the garden (my reason for going) is segmented with hard barriers between them that make turning corners like walking through a magical wardrobe.

Pictured here is the kitchen garden. This is one of the least well kept of the gardens but it is gradually being brought up to the level of its more illustrious neighbours hidden the other side of the wall.

It still shows its kitchen heritage and is planted in efficient rows of vegetables and flowers that I presume are used in the cafe and house. They also provide a patchwork view to the visitors sitting outside the long cafe that stretches along one end of the garden.

Ham House is a boutique attraction, it's small and pretty, and so is well suited to regular short visits just to see how the seasons change it.

St Michael's Convent on Ham Common is only open to visitors once or twice a year and so I grab the opportunity to go there when I can.

Like Ham House, it's attraction comes from it's division in to distinct areas each with their own character.

Paths run the length of the garden and round the outside creating long green corridors. The central corridor is my favourite and is a cosy irregular orchard where tulips have been encouraged to establish themselves in the long grass between the trees.

In season, the tulips produce eye-catching drops of vibrant colour against a background of simple greens where the trees conspire to hide any evidence that this is a just a garden in south-west London.

Without doubt, the local garden star is Petersham Lodge.

And the main reason for that is the large pond that offers serene views back to the lodge and cuts a majestic swathe through the wild part of the wide garden.

The rest of the garden houses several pretty borders, a formal avenue of trees, a box hedge cut in geometric patterns, a walk through mature trees with bluebells shouting their presence underneath and a tidy terrace from which to enjoy it all.

It also has that special ingredient that comes, unlike the others, from this being a private house and a private garden. The ghosts of other people follow you around, enjoying the garden as much as you.

These are three special gardens and they are quite different from each other. The common feature is that they slide you away from the bustle, noise and physical presence of the modern world that surrounds them all but which has, so far, failed to make any meaningful progress against them.

6 May 2010

Discovering Banska Stiavnica

The Slovak Embassy in London is on bit of a roll at the moment and I was delighted to be back there recently for a presentation on the town of Banska Stiavnica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I did some research on the town prior to the event and had already adjusted my Summer holiday plans to include a few days there. The itinerary is now Berlin, Brno, Bratislava, Banska Stiavnica, Zilina and Prague, with at least one day and two nights at each place. All the travel is by train and one bus (are there really no international trains out of Prague?!).

The taste of Banska Stiavnica started as we waited patiently outside for the presentation to begin with some local dress, music, song and dance from a group of musicians.

Once inside we were treated to some wine and could enjoy the exhibitions of art in wood by Arpad Pal and some early Beatles photographs by Dezo Hoffmann.

The one low point was the couple who compèred the evening who went through a scripted and stilted fake conversation that reminded me of the infamous Fox/Fleetwood incident. But that was all that was wrong.

The good bits included a talk by Arpad Pal on his art, the return of the musicians with instruments similar to bagpipes and the didgeridoo, a talk on the sympathetic restoration of some of the town's old buildings, a welcoming talk by the mayor and more food and drink.

I had a fantastic time listening to the talks, mixing with some of my Czech/Slovak friends and meeting lots of new people.

I managed to corner all of the main speakers (not the compères!), got their business cards and agreed to meet up in July when I am over there.

I first fell in love with Czechosolvakia (as it was then) some nineteen years ago when working in Prague and I've been trotting back there regularly ever since. With places like Banska Stiavnica still to explore I can see me going back for quite a while to come. I may even move there.

4 May 2010

Stitch up at the V&A

For second month in a row I was lured out on the last Friday to take advantage of the V&A's late night opening. Last month it was games and puzzles, this month it was quilts and sewing!

OK, so I did not actually do any of the sewing myself but I did witness hordes of women throwing themselves enthusiastically into various challenges with material and thread.

Instead I chose to trawl some of the open galleries starting, not for the first time, with the small but stimulating architecture section on the top floor by the main entrance.

My somewhat random ventures after that took me through a corridor of stained glass and silver and my attention was unceremoniously grabbed by some of the pieces of modern glass at the far end.

I am not religious but I don't mind iconography when it is as powerful as this. It helps that the overall effect is more abstract art than anything meaningful.

In almost complete contrast, the other highlight of the wanderings were some dresses made out of waste materials, such as crisp packets, that were designed by 14 year old girls.

It's these unexpected discoveries that make the V&A a constant joy.

3 May 2010

Isabella Plantation (and zombies)

Richmond Park, with its sweeping hills thick with trees, grasses and ferns, hardly needs a garden to make it special but it has one anyway. Isabella Plantation, a short walk from Ham Gate, collects trees, bushes and shrubs around some small natural streams that trickle down to a duck pond by the entrance.

Isabella Plantation largely gives the impression that it has been left to grown on its own, and I've never seen a gardener at work there, but the many paths and the few trimmed bushes show that somebody has been busy at sometime.

One of the newer features to creep almost unnoticed in to the garden is another pond with its attendant water-loving plants and wildlife.

And in the middle-ground, a shock of red to remind you of the clumps of Azaleas that congregate in this part of the garden.

The discrete paths follow the streams and cross them frequently giving the impression of an overly complicated board game that involves something like collecting flowers, rescuing princesses from goblins or, more likely, disemboweling zombies.

Whatever games of imagination you want to play, Isabella Plantation is a great place to play them with its mysteries, colours and spaces.

2 May 2010

Reggie Perrin Series 2 is promising

Series 2 of Reggie Perrin, the modern remake of the 70s classic, is now being filmed at Teddington Studios and I went to see it.

The studios, not surprisingly, are in Teddington on the river by the lock, and so it is easy for me to get there for recordings. It's little more than a 15 minute walk. I've seen a few things filmed there but not for a little while so I jumped at the chance to see Reggie Perrin with it's great cast and solid writing team.

Martin Clunes heads the cast and, frankly, dominates the show despite the good people behind him. But he plays the lead role so that is good.

He also added a lot to the filming with his bemused expressions at other actors' mistakes and his ad libs, sadly too rude to repeat here!

Series Two continues to mimic the 70's original without directly copying it so there are many familiar features and catch-phrases but a lot of new things too, such as the love interest for Reggie's wife.

The filming went well with only one fit of the giggles to extend the retakes, though most scenes were shot twice for little or no apparent reason.

We had a warm-up guy to keep us amused between takes but while he was quite good I am not sure that he was needed as the breaks were short, unlike at Karen Taylor where the breaks were so long at the warm-up guy got cold.

The humour in Reggie Perrin comes from the situation and the rich dialogue where every word is important, rather than from any overt punchlines or slapstick. This means that there are few audible laughs but the situation and the script sustain the comedy and the drama throughout and the show is well worth watching.

1 May 2010

Taking Steps at the Orange Tree Theatre

Alan Ayckbourn's Taking Steps makes a welcome return to the Orange Tree Theatre under his own direction.

This is farce in its basic form with a small group of characters interwoven in each other's lives with increasing complexity and confusion to produce genuine laugh-out-loud moments throughout.

The steps that are being taken are those of a new bride leaving her husband but getting in the way of this are her brother, the woman who left him at the alter, the man who owns the house the husband wants to buy, the lawyer from out of town who has come to help with the deal and the ghost of a prostitute.

The plot complications include the return of brother's former fiancée (and the different expectations from this), ghostly noises from old plumbing, and mistakes made with sleeping pills and with the interpretation of notes.

All this happens in a large three story house that is cleverly laid out on one stage.

Here the bed and dressing table (far left) are in the master bedroom on the first floor and the two easy chairs are in the lounge on the ground floor. The little attic room is just off to the left. The (flat) stairs are on two sides of the stage (to the right and ahead).

This imaginative setting introduces its own comedy elements. For example, we can see the wife doing her dancing exercises in the bedroom while the people in the room below look up to see where the noise is coming from when, in real life, they are standing next to her.

This may sound confusing but you quickly get the idea of how it works and it all seems natural after that. Alan Ayckbourn's direction really succeeds here.

The small cast is engaging and (mostly) believable, the hard-working and hard-drinking rich husband particularly so. I also enjoyed the timid ex-fiancee and the incompetent lawyer.

The rich humour came from both the dialogue and, being a farce, characters not being aware of situations that we could all see, e.g. the girl hiding in the attic or the wife trying to sneak down the stairs.

There was a story too and that provided a place-holder for the humour for most of the two hours and twenty minutes before giving up and letting the farce do the work. There was an ending of sorts, or rather several endings as there was a big change for each character. Some of those endings were happy and some less so but they seemed to be more a way to bring the play to a close than to complete the story.

But the lack of a strong or believable story did little or nothing to detract from a play that simply did not need one to be funny. And Taking Steps was very funny.