Wednesday, 29 August 2007

pelican postscript

Just to say...they finally did get the signaled pedestrian crossing up and running by last Saturday. By Monday it was down again and today they seem to have fixed the fault. I have been sent detailed missives by council officers explaining the difficulty of implementing such a scheme. And, I'm sure they're right.

But one can't help but think: every time we read in the tabloids about "health and safety" gone mad, there are manifold cases of situations where children are put at risk because the bureaucratic problems of coordinating disparate agencies can not be resolved by a species that put on its members on it's closest orbiting satellite.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

Great News. Nothing has been discovered. Lots of it.

An astronomer at Minnesota University has discovered a region of emptiness that dwarfs all others. Inside the nothing is, well nothing: no stars, no planets, no moons, not even a black hole. Nothing. Zilch. A complete and utter void.

One way of getting your head around the size is to imagine a scale model of the Universe with the Earth modeled the size of a grain of sand. This empty region would then be the size of our solar system. And what's perhaps more alarming is that these regions of nothing might be increasing. Due to the accelerating rate by which the universe is expanding, the structure of space is now beginning to resemble a huge Emmental.

Kaarina cleverly quipped that it was rather like the global economy, expanding and expanding while leaving huge gaps (for the poor to live in) until the whole thing implodes under its own weight.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Life, an apology

A very nice man from Southwark Council leaves a message on my voicemail asking me to call me back. When I do I find that he is just as concerned as I am, it seems, to get the crossing back up and running but, of course, things are not so simple. The work has been slowed down by the rain and yes, it's Transport for London who have to turn the traffic signals on. So the poor man is stuck with one of those problems familiar to anyone who has ever done any work that involves the carpet-layers coming after the plasters coming in after the electricians...

Which leaves me feeling still very angry with, with, with...who do I get angry with? It seems that perhaps I expect too much of the world and that life is never going to meet up to my exacting standards. Should I lower them, or just find something else to moan about?

Monday, 20 August 2007

Road Safety for Dummies

So it's the middle of the summer holidays and hundreds of children are roaming the streets with or without their parents. Not the best time you might think to take up a zebra crossing from outside the Forest Hill Road entrance to Peckham Rye Park. And then leave it for a few days before putting in the pelican crossing that is going to replace it.

Well it might force those obese kids we keep hearing about to get fit by sprinting across one of the busiest roads in the borough. I don't know, maybe this is a radical attempt to deal with the shortage of school places (sorry that's a really bad joke I know but isn't the sickest thing of all, the complete contempt for the safety of pedestrians?)

I phoned up the council to ask them what they are playing at but of course you can only now speak to a privately-run call centre where after holding for 15 minutes they tell you that they can't put you through but are going to "put it on the system". When I asked if anyone would get back to me, she told me, "I don't think they do that". After pleading with her, and asking to speak to her supervisor (there was none present) she did put me through to the contractor's voicemail. Not at all surprisingly, no one called back.

Footnote: in fairness to LB Southwark, this road could be the responsibility of Transport for London. But then, how frustrating is it that when I call the council, I am not permitted to speak to anyone who could give me this helpful information?

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Going for a song

It's one of the few perks of working in a public library that you can borrow CDs for free which gives you a chance to listen to stuff you wouldn't normally. Or, even that you've never hear of. Right now, I am enjoying a compilation of that wonderful singer, Mr Sam Cooke but the biggest discovery of the week is a certain lady of Jazz, Lorez Alexandria.

There's not much info about her on the web. The Album I've borrowed was recorded in 1964 and she has a beautifully, controlled voice, mellow and meaningful, taking on standards such as Satin Doll and Over the Rainbow . Amazingly enough there is no Wikipedia article for her but from the Verve Label site is that she had her roots in Gospel Music, disappeared between 1965 and 1974 but then returned to singing up until the mid 1990's. She died of a stroke in 2001. The quality of her voice is up there with Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, I'm amazed she's not better known.

Now far be it from me to encourage any pilfering of intellectual property but it may not have escaped my readers that, with the advent of digital music, it is quite simple to transfer tracks from borrowed CD's onto your computer or MP3 player. And if you haven't ventured into your public library lately, you might be pleasantly surprised by the selection on offer. Libraries in Southwark and Lewisham are both doing two for one offers at the moment. In Lewisham this means you can have four albums worth of tracks for a pound -- compare that to $0.99 a track via iTunes.

And they also have Books!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Eschewing Obfuscation

I just thought I should share with you what must surely count as some of the most unintelligible writing, ever put into print. The source, a planning guidance document produced by my local council; the meaning, well your guess is as good as mine.

The need for infrastructure and community facilities across the borough to support the increase in demand which arises out of development is such that it is very important the planning obligations policies are observed in such a way as to maximise the potential for developments to contribute towards infrastructure and community facilities needed to support the development.

A packet of salmiakki to the best English translation (in rhyming couplets).

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

The decline of the West

Today, a first. Hearing a language which I had never heard before and I would guess few people will ever hear.

An elderly gentleman was enquiring after an out of print book he was trying to get hold of. He let slip that his name day was 24th June. By which, knowing that Juhannes, when the Finns celebrate Midsummer is that very day, I deduced that he was called John. And telling him this, and mentioning the way that this is celebrated with fires (kokkot) in the aforementioned country he informed me that in his ancestral city, the feast was celebrated with ten days of bonfires. And he challenged me to guess where this country was.

His first clue was that a number of his countrymen where massacred in Lewisham in the fifteenth century. Then as I took a stab at Ireland, he told me that no, Irish was in another subgroup of the Celtic languages. I then tried Welsh (closer) and Breton (closer) still until I said, you're not Cornish are you?

He then spoke to me in the most beautiful, ancient language which now has, he believes 300 speakers. Cornish or Kernowak almost died out, partly he thinks as a result of the Bible never being translated into the language - his fellow countrymen held out against the protestant venacular service, supporting the keeping of the high Latin mass.

Links about Cornish:

Cornish Language

Cornwall County Council
Cornish - Wikipedia
Agan Tavas - Support group for Cornish Language users

His city was Penzance by the way which apparently, like "John" means "holy head".

Friday, 3 August 2007

Kosmic meanderings

As the last sandal of time is squeezed into the suitcase of eternity, I just have another couple of minutes to say goodbye to the land of snow, salmiakki and Koskenkorva. (And indeed Salmiakki Koskenkorva)

Last night, after a drink or three at Strindberg and Palasi, we ended up at my favourite restaurant in the whole wide world, namely Kosmos . What I had set my heart on was Baltic herring and mash potatoes but because of the recent stroms, the fishing fleet has been unable to put out to sea but no matter. I enjoyed some delicious kuha (pike perch) in a sauce of crayfish tails. After a Bushmills in Helsinki, we staggered home.

Woke up this morning from a strange dream involving a football match between Brazil and Italy. Italy won. And whether it was something about the dream or about going back to London, I felt a desperate sadness which hung about for an hour or two.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

The world's smallest blogpost

We've got to leave the flat in a minute to meet some friends for a drink, so I've just got time to say that...

OK, I'm coming! the sun comes out in Helsinki, and you head out in the hope of finding a seat in a bar with a north by north-west facing terrassi, it feels just like going to get ice-cream at the beach when we were children.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

A Little Bit of Luxury

Not that I've stayed in that many, but this hotel could be the best I've ever stayed in. And here's a tip for tourists. If you come to Finland in the "holy month" of July, business hotels actually reduce their rates rather than put them up. Reason being, they're half empty as no one in Finland does any business in the one month of the year where there is really no chance of snow, sub-zero temperatures, 24 hour darkness etc.

So for less than a hundred euros we are enjoying a room the size of a five-aside football pitch, with stylish contemporary bathroom fittings and three arm chairs (the third presumably in case a friend drops by in the night).

I have to confess to a weakness for posh hotel rooms. Well, any hotel rooms really. There's something about the feel of starched white sheets against the skin. Or could it be the promiscuous entertaining of hundreds of stangers who have come before me and will come after? The lure of the cable channels and the temptations of the minibar -- we only took one beer (for the sauna) but we could have drunk it dry if we'd felt like playing at rock stars on tour.

But on top of all these delights, a dream came true last night when we found we were the only people in the restaurant, or at least the small bit that we were in, and we could at least pretend that we had arranged a private room for our romantic triste. The food incidentally was excellent. I had lake trout with a chanterelle sauce and for the starter, I even enjoyed the beetroot, the one vegetable I generally avoid. Washed down with a bottle of 2004 Chianti a bit of a compromise choice as Kaarina was grabbing the chance to eat steak.

So now, as my beloved sleeps it off, I sit reading Newsweek in the tastefully furnished lobby, contemporary but not sombre, with mustard yellows and warm reds replacing the standard cold greys of so many so called boutique hotels. And no doubt breakfast will be copious piles of bread and cheese and cucumber and maybe some herring...but I must stop as the thought of it, is making my stomach rumble so loud as to wake any other guests still sleeping.