Finnish song from Ursula Under

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I recently finished reading Ursula Under, a swirling novel which delves deep into the ancestry of a little girl trapped in a well. It's very fanciful, with stories about ancient China, a Swedish Queen and more. Most interesting are the episodes about Finnish migration to Michigan.

A short Finnish song sung by one character caught my eye...

"Life is as hard as the icy rock under the turf, and we slip on it sometimes, and then we get up to find life is as hard as the icy rock under the turf, and we slip on it sometimes, and then we get up..." and she sings it until she is laughing right through her tears."

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's Christmas, and I'm in Ireland. Happy Christmas to one and all.

Happy Christmas!

Mama Sweden map, by Joel

Monday, December 08, 2008

I am still continuing to ask European people to draw maps of their country. The latest candidate was Joel, a good friend from Sweden who has since moved back there.

Here's his drawing, emphasising Sweden, his motherland.

Sweden, by  Joel

On Chesil Beach... there's rubbish

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Friday, I took the train to Weymouth to visit Dorset's Jurassic coast, Portland Bill and Chesil Beach.

Chesil beach, from above

Chesil Beach is an amazing geographical and geological wonder - a huge, 18 mile long bank of pebbles which start out large and become smaller the further you walk along the beach.

Chesil Beach

I was very lucky to see a beautiful sunset from the beach.

Sunset, Dorset

The beach has become more popular recently with the publication of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. Signs ask visitors not to take pebbles, but I noticed one family had commemorated their visit by writing on the pebbles.

Names written on pebbles, Chesil Beach

I was less heartened to see, however, that rubbish is strewn all over the beach. This ranged from odd shoes, combs, plastic bottles, tin cans and drums to more natural detritus like wood and ropes.

Rubbish on Chesil Beach

It's a shame those signs that say 'don't take pebbles', don't also say 'but please take some rubbish away with you'.

Rubbish on Chesil Beach

That said, however this tin of pimento dulce (sweet paprika) intrigued me - had it floated all the way from Spain or Portugal?

Suddenly Last Summer

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Years ago, in university, I was involved in a production of Tennessee William's play Suddenly Last Summer. I was very excited to hear that the BFI are holding a Tennessee Williams season at the moment, and went to see a film version of the play last night.

It was spectacular - Katherine Hepburn as the venomous yet fragile Violet and Elizabeth Taylor as the sultry yet disturbed Catherine.

One of the highlights was this scene - the first appearance of Violet, descending from above on her throne. It's camp, it's fabulous, and so very Tennessee Williams.

Happy birthday, acediscovery

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This blog is now 3 - I started it off in November 2005 - see here for the first few posts.

I love giving mixCDs as birthday presents, so here is one of my favourites:

Fierce & Fabulous - download RAR

· Originally for Nathan, who is both fierce, fabulous and ferocious - a mix of ace pop, disco, electro and clash, in alphabetical order:

  • Amanda Lear - Fashion Pack

  • Amanda Lepore - My Hair Looks Fierce

  • Anita Meyer - Why tell me why?

  • Anita Ward - Ring My Bell

  • Avenue D - Sex that I need

  • Beyonce & Shakira - Beautiful Liar (Freemasons)

  • Beyonce - In Da Club

  • Candi Staton - You Got the Love

  • Cazwell - All Over Your Face

  • Diana Ross - I Ain't Been Licked

  • Fanny Pack - Camel Toe

  • Elena Paparizou - Gigolo

  • Linda Sundblad - Pretty Rebels

  • Liquid Gold - Dance Yourself Dizzy

  • N.E.X - Straight to Bed

  • Pay TV - Trendy Discotheque

  • Readers Wifes - Nostalgia

  • Therese - Time

Girls Aloud are ace

Friday, November 21, 2008

There have been many excellent reviews of Girls Aloud's new album, Out of Control. I second everything they write. Lyrically, it's top-notch, and fabulous singing and vocal moments abound. Such as these ace bits:

  • The Promise: Huge girlpop anthem, giving everyone a chance to be girlband fabulous. You're gonna make me, make me love you... and a massive key-change.
  • The Loving Kind: Majestic, brittle, beautiful, making me wonder if love is all about the little things.
  • Rolling back the rivers in time: Gone are the days of magic sings Nicola, directly referencing another of their songs, It's Magic
  • Love is the Key: opposites attract, and now we're picking out the towels and curtains
  • Turn to Stone: Electropop!
  • Untouchable: Without any meaning, we're just skin and bone. Like beautiful robots, dancing alone. WOW.
  • Fix Me Up: a plea for all my sexual healing sounding oh-so like "homosexual healing". You know, you go, girls.
  • Love is Pain: oh oh oh oh Love is Pain oh oh oh oh you're insane oh oh oh oh
  • Miss You Bow Wow: an ace title, and basically is 4 choruses (chorii?) strung together into one huge song. Massive sing-a-long I remember in one of these many chorus moments
  • Revolution in the Head: Girls going dancehall. Gimme the ting, gimme the ting, gimme the oh oh oh - and making it work.
  • Live in the Country: cow sounds! cat sounds! pig sounds! It's joyfully bonkers, and yet totally in Girls Aloud's oeuvre as a logical response to Swinging London Town
  • We Wanna Party: It's vintage Aloud: we're-famous-and-fucked: disillusioned with my dreams, got life confused with my designer jeans.

Overall: a brilliant, grown-up, sonic and lyrically superb album with songs which both refer back to earlier songs and move their style onwards.

A Pop Quiz with Baccara

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's about time to have another quiz!

Here's a lovely song by those two Spanish senoritas, Baccara. They trill their way through Darling, purring oozy, schmoozie, floozie sentiments and (somehow) shoe-horning in a mention of Birmingham.

But there's one point where I have no idea what they're singing about.

In the chorus (after the Darling! Darling Darling! bits), they sing: "...and I imagine all the something we can do."

It begins - I think - with a G... but what is the something?

Make me laugh, make me cry, but please tell me. Fabulous prizes for those who answer.

My favourite Obama quote

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I love this quote from Oprah Winfrey. It just sums up everything I'm thinking.

USA in London

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Today is America's big day - the election of a new president. I've found the following American-themed places in London - a motley crew: a casino, a restaurant and plenty takeaways.

Vegas casino

Vegas Casino, Islington

Montana Wines

Montana Wines, Clerkenwell

Texas Embassy

Texas Embassy, near Trafalgar Square

Dallas Chicken &Ribs

Dallas Chicken in Vauxhall

Chicago Pizza & FriedChicken

Chicago Pizza & Friend Chicken, South Lambeth Road

Tennessee Fried Chicken

Tennessee Fried Chicken, Lavender Hill

Anthony Gormley's statues on Crosby Beach

Monday, November 03, 2008

I went to Liverpool last week, and continued on to see Anthony's Gormley's statues on Crosby beach. The statues were installed there in 2005 as a temporary art project, but are now permanently installed.

Anthony Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach

Crosby is a non-bathing beach - but the statues ignore that. 100 statues are placed along the beach, in the tide and out to sea. The way they look despends on the tide - whether it's in or out.

Anthony Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach

The statues are entitled 'Another Place' and I really liked how they were looking across the sea, maybe towards Ireland or towards America.

Millions of people left Liverpool's port to sail to America in the hope of a new life. Millions of people left Ireland for Liverpool in the hope of a new life. Are the statues looking back to the past or forward to the future?

Anthony Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach

I was reminded of a big tradition in 19th century Irish art of Ireland imagined as a maiden, Erin, standing on the shore looking out to see for her exiled lover to return to free her and the nation.

Anthony Gormley sculptures on Crosby beach
Who or what are the statues looking to?

Are there any Sanmarinese in London?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm hoping that my next football with the foreign fans match will be San Marino playing Northern Ireland, on Sunday. But the question is - where are the Sanmarinese?

I know there's at least one - he or she has set up a greasy spoon in Brixton. But the man working there wasn't from San Marino, and didn't know where I'd find them.

San Marino

Today, I went to the London address of the San Marino Consulate General - but it turned out to be the bloke's apartment. (In Chelsea too, which is fancy.)

My one remaining option is someone called Walter - the chaps on the World in One City blog found him running a cafe near Oxford Street, so I'm hoping he'll be supporting his nation.

EDIT: Walter's cafe was not there, and this match wasn't even on. I can't read a calendar, it seems.

Fotball! Football with London's Norwegian fans

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I joined Norwegians last night to watch Norway -v- Netherlands. London's Norwegian church, in Rotherhithe, is a remnant of seafaring times when Norwegian sailors needed solace. Yesterday, the church laid on solace of a different kind with football and a tasty meal.

I had meatballs, peas and potatoes followed by a waffle pancake and jam. Yum.

Meal at London's Norwegian church

The audience was primarily men. Of the few women, most didn't seem interested, texting on their phones etc. One woman was - wearing a red football top and matching red shoes. The men weren't that impressed by her though, as she chatted on her phone and coughed loudly. There were cold stares.

Norwegian football fans, London

All in all though, it was a very polite affair - as you might expect in a match between two of the world's most liberal nations. Only twice did the Norwegians get excited with a whooping cheer and a dramatic plea. Otherwise, they sat placidly watching the match. You'd never think they were descendants of the Vikings.

Norwegian football fans, London

As the match whimpered to an end (Norway lost 1-0), the Norwegians had a little grumble and then went about putting all the plates and cutlery away.

Reborn at the Discotheque

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's all gone very butch / intellectual around here, what with my football and artsy excursions.

Time, then, for some camp pop fabulosity. Elin Lanto - she of Money (Show me what it takes to be a real rich bitch!) - is back with Discotheque. It's v. Alcazar, with big hair, amazing boots and hand-claps.


Nogomet! Football with London's Slovenian fans

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I said the Slovenes were elusive, and they were. Until Saturday noon, I had nothing more than 'go to Sports Bar; hope to see a Slovene'. Then, Mox (great name!) of the London-Slovene facebook and Yahoo! groups came to the rescue with the Famous 3 Kings in West Kensington.

The bar turned out to be full of fans - Russian fans, German fans, French fans, Czech fans, Polish fans, Italian fans, Ukrainian fans, and, yes, Slovene fans!

Many screens showed several matches, with fan groups spread out all over. To begin with, just three were watching the Slovenia game. One bloke on his own. Another bloke on his own. And me. On my own. The atmosphere was not electric.

So I bounced off to watch the Czech-Polish match. The Poles were very excited to be winning. The Czechs all had crazy hair - dreadlocks, long red streaked hair, long hair.

Czech football fans, Famous 3 Kings, London
Finally, I saw two Slovenian blokes. It's safe to say they weren't all that interested. One played with his phone, and then looked at the menu. Later, they were chatting animatedly. They even discussed the air conditioning at one point. There were no flags.

Frankly, I don't blame them. It was a boring match. My highlight was seeing a sign saying "Brkini Za Slovenijo" because Slovenijo is an ace word.

When Slovenia scored two flukey goals near the end to win the match, another man celebrated quietly with a smile.

The Russians and Germans were much more excited. The Russians were a mix of trendy types (Dolce & Gabanna hats, coiffed hair) and total hardnuts. The Russians cheered a lot. They even cheered when they lost.

Russian & German football fans, Famous 3 Kings, London
The Germans were giving their "Aus auf Deutschland, something is a doora!" song and the Russians retaliated with "Russ-ki-ja! Russ-ki-ja!". This made up for my not being able to find Russians during Euro 2008.

Later, I stopped off in Piccadilly to take a peek at Kazakh football fans waiting to go into a match after party.

Kazakh football fans, London
It was £20 to get in, so I gave it a skip. Here's what I (most likely) missed - my favourite Kazakh-pop-tune.

Next up! - I was thinking the Belarussians, but I may have a tip for Norwegians on Wednesday, so it'll probably be them.

World Cup 2010 qualifying matches

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Having watched Euro 2008 with the Europeans, I'm going to watch as many World Cup 2010 qualifying matches as I can with Euro-fans. The matches most likely to be shown in London are those with England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, so these will be those I'll see.

The timetable's below, with the match I most want to see in bold. Any tips for finding supporters greatly appreciated! First up, it's Slovenians - although they're proving elusive.

England -v- Kazakhstan
Slovenia -v- Northern Ireland
Scotland -v- Norway
Wales -v- Liechtenstein

Belarus -v- England

Northern Ireland -v- San Marino
Germany -v- Wales

San Marino -v- Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland -v- Poland
Netherlands -v- Scotland
Wales -v- Finland

Scotland -v- Iceland
Northern Ireland -v- Slovenia
Wales -v- Germany
England -v- Ukraine

Kazakhstan -v- England
Azerbaijan -v- Wales

England -v- Andorra

Norway -v- Scotland

Poland -v- Northern Ireland
Scotland -v- Macedonia
FYR Scotland -v- Netherlands

England -v- Croatia
Northern Ireland -v- Slovakia
Wales -v- Russia

Ukraine -v- England
Finland -v- Wales

England -v- Belarus
Czech Republic -v- Northern Ireland
Liechtenstein -v- Wales

Walking through Holland

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I've just finishing reading A Long Walk South by Sean Rothery. It's all about Rothery's walk from Holland to the south of France. It should be fascinating, but it's all a bit dull. Rothery is obsessed with his feet and the surfaces he walks on. Understandable, I guess, but I tend to read travel books to learn about other places.

Two observations stand out - on seeing the tightly packed little weekend retreat bungalows in Holland, he muses that the Dutch are so used to living in densely populated cities and in tall apartment blocks that just being at ground level at weekends, close to their vegetables and flowers, must be their way of connecting with the earth.

Later he encounters a group of people at a hotel - mainly retired - who are taken on coach trips into the countryside where they were given basic meals and then a sales talk for all sorts of household goods.

Overall, though, it all seems quite pedestrian. Certainly, Holland seems nothing like it does in this great video.

How to stop Post Office queues

Thursday, October 02, 2008

According to news yesterday, Post Office queues in London are up to half an hour long.

No great surprise to anyone who has stood in one, as I have. Stood, and seethed and raged and thought how much quicker it could be. (I suspect the Post Office don't want to reduce queues - they try to flog stuff to those in the queue after all.)

Two easy ways to shorten these queues are:

  • Introduce two queues - one for those who just want a stamp, or just want their parcel weighed and posted. And one for those who have 40 minute long queries about their passports, their ATM bank cards, their giros, their whatever-the-hell-is-taking-so-long.
  • Introduce self-service. Londoners are busy, busy people. Tesco, Boots, Sainsburys all recognise this and now let us do your thing ourselves. One post office could have 3 self service weight / postage machines.
Easy, really, isn't it?

Blackfriars Bridge in lasers

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ghost Bridge, by Keith Bowler

Keith Bowler's laser recreation of the Old Blackfriars Bridge (on display until October 19) contains a clever idea: bringing the past back to life with modern technology. And, although it looks nothing like how it should according to this website, it's a pretty compelling sight.

It sets me thinking - imagine a bridge made completely from lasers, or a real bridge with lasers all along its structure, or historical landmarks recreated by lasers - London before the Great Fire, London before World War Two, Berlin before the Wars, the Colossus of Rhodes. How amazing.

Photographs of Chongqing, China

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

With the Olympics now over, China is slowly fading away from our sights.

Many cultural institutions held China-themed events over the summer (e.g. where I work) but these are coming to a close. I went to see what may be the last of these - City of Ambition, Ferit Kuyas's amazing photographs of Chongqing (at Photofusion).

Appropriately, the images are shrouded in haze - it's unclear whether this is early morning mist or pollution. Massive, ambitious constructions and buildings can be seen, but only their structures and only from a distance. Up-close detail is obscured.

From City of Ambition, by Ferit Kuyas
From City of Ambition, by Ferit Kuyas
With China supposedly revealing itself through the Olympics, this theme is interesting.

The landscapes are desolate, empty, almost eeries. For the most populated country in the world, there's a surprising absence of people in the photographs. In one image, however, a prominent person: a security guard standing to attention.
From City of Ambition, by Ferit Kuyas

London 2012 Olympics site

Sunday, September 28, 2008

As part of the Open House weekend, I went on a tour of the London 2012 Olympics site. Construction work has just begun on some parts of the site, with lots of activity going on.

The main thing that strikes you is the sheer quantities of rubble and material on the site - all this will either be cleared and re-used to create the Olympic park.

Mounds of rubble on London 2012 Olympic site

The skyline is cluttered and crowded with cranes.

Cranes on London 2012 Olympic site

Over 200km of electricity cables criss-cross the site at the moment. These will all be moved into two underground tunnels.

Pylons on London 2012 Olympic site

This is the beginning of the Olympic stadium. The piles in the bottom left are the first of 3,500 on which the stadium will stand. Its design is magnificent - it's changeable fabric curtain design gives it flexibility and democracy, enhancing its rather simple structure.

Beginning of Olympic stadium, London 2012 Olympics site

These hollows are for the foundations of Zaha Hadid's Aquatic Centre.

Site of Aquatic Centre, London 2012 Olympic site

This canal was built to transport material to and from the site. The Olympic stadium will be on an island site, surrounded by water.

Canal on London 2012 Olympic site

The island site, plus the iconic wave roof on the Aquatics Centre, and the ubiquitous Thames imagery used in so many London logo leads me to think that water should be a theme of these Olympics. The opening ceremony should emphasise water, movement, fluidity, change, from ancient to modern, from 1908 to 1948 to 2012.

On the tour, I discovered that a public walkway goes right through the park, so I will definitely be going back to keep up with the progress.

Films of the Olympics, 1900-1924

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I went to the BFI last night to watch The Olympic Games on film, 1900-1924, a fascinating set of vintage films.

The films revealed much about the Olympics - sometimes bad, such as the frankly racist Anthropological Days which tried to show that white people were a physically superior race.

The best stories came from the marathons, such as, in St Louis in 1904, the chap who came second travelled some of the race in a truck, the fairly widespread use of strychnine as a performance enhancer, and Dorando Pietri's misadventures from London's 1908 Olympics.

My highlight came from the 1924 Paris Olympics with the images of the control station - the runners came in, sweating, panting, exhausted, and the French served up glasses of red and white wine. Brilliant.

Colours of Greece

Monday, September 22, 2008

Greece is glorious - sun, sea, sand, and almost everything is blue and white. The Greek flag has been blue and white for centuries, in a number of different designs. It's generally thought this refers to the Aegean sea surrounding Greece.

The Greeks certainly adopt the colours with a patriotic verve when designing their houses, boats, furniture, motorbikes and lots more.

Traditional greek island architecture

Mykonos windmill

Mykonos doorway

Columns on Delos



Wall mural

Old building

Blue & white boat


Table & tablecloth




But then, occasionally, you come across a house not painted blue and white, but green, or red, or purple. Are these Greek houses? Or maybe Italians, Turks, or Albanians live in them? And what do the Greek neighbours say?

A green door