This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TV programme (and a book and an app and a place):  I’ve been fascinated by Hatton Garden in London ever since I used to go to the area every couple of months for a meeting that was held in a church hall there, and so this week I was drawn to what turned out to be a really interesting documentary on ITV about jewellery dealers who work in the area – Diamond Geezers and Gold Dealers which is still available on ITV Player.  The bit that really amazed me was how one person hoovering and cleaning a tiny workshop found £1,300 worth of gold amongst all the dirt and dust that the owner didn’t know was there.  There’s bits of it that felt mercenary and extravagant but other parts that made you realise this was the ultimate in recycling.  This programme also gives me a good opportunity to promote the brilliant book I read last year called Diamond Street by Rachel Lichtenstein a social history about the people, the history and the characters of Hatton Garden.  Rachel Lichtenstein has also produced an app that you can listen to when walking round the area to find out more about it which is a great way of bringing her book and the general history of the area to life.

A song:  This song comes from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack but having not seen the film the first time I heard it was at a party I went to in Birmingham (a slightly random party that I went to with a mate and I so I can’t remember whose party it was or where exactly it was).  The song is If Love Were a Red Dress by Maria McKee and is so much better played live.  Emotional and dramatic.


A TED talk:  This talk by Steve Richards is from TEDxHousesofParliament which is one of the locally organised TED talks rather than those organised by the organisation itself.  I only became aware of Steve Richards’ talk and tour when I saw people tweet about him as the speaker at a dinner during Labour’s National Policy Forum last weekend.  It’s a good talk as it shows the dilemma that politicians find themselves in when trying to both appeal to the electorate and be themselves, and also the dilemma of authenticy.  It is so very true.  It’s funny how I’d already watched this in the last week when Ed Miliband pleaded for people to judge his substance.  Or perhaps it was as a result of the Labour National Policy Forum.

A speech: There’s been a lot of talk this week about Tim Farron’s Beveridge Lecture to the Social Liberal Forum Conference.  As I tweeted in the last week, I don’t really do party factions but the Social Liberal Forum Conference looks as though it was pretty good.  Tim’s speech was excellent and really summed up some of the main political challenges at the moment and gave some guidance as to what our priorities should be.  I was particularly pleased to see infrastructure as a key part of it.  Some have billed it as setting out his stall for a future leadership challenge, but I don’t really see it as radically different from current party policy (although it may well be different from government policy).  Well worth a read though.

An article:  This article appeals to both motor racing fans and statistics nuts.  I’m neither, but also a little bit of both.  The article from the BBC Magazine assesses who the greatest Formula 1 driver is.  It shows how complicated using statistics can be, but it’s interesting to look at the different ways of assessing it.

Another song:  … and another song from an artist who started to make it big in the 1980s.  In my local pub quiz there was the inevitable picture round and I never recognised this singer, but she’s someone whose Greatest Hits album I love and feel is massively underrated.  It’s Alison Moyet.  As a result All Cried Out has been going round in my head for several days and it is a great song.  Performed with her distinctive deep voice and sort of power ballady but also slightly dark.

A TV series:  It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who reads my This Week posts that I also enjoy Undercover Boss which is now in its second week on Channel 4.  Whilst I prefer the series where someone spends an intensive time properly interacting with the owners of a business to look at what they can improve, this one looks at more high profile companies and the day to day more mundane problems they face.  This series has been interesting so far as they’ve covered Moss Bros (a company I do occasionally interact with) and Oxfam (who I once volunteered for) and so it’s not been a completely unknown type of business.  I sometimes do wonder however how many other members of staff in a business resent the special help the boss gives to the person they just happened to work with.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TV series:  There’s nothing I like better than a good bit of infrastructure!  Actually, a good bit of infrastructure and a ‘behind the scenes’ type TV programme.  This week BBC2 started The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway a short series about the construction of Crossrail.  This programme was generally fascinating showing you things you never realised they did as part of such a major project but what was genuinely awe inspiring was boring a tunnel just 80cm above an Underground line and 30cm below an escalator whilst both were still in use!

A TED talk:  This is one of my favourites that I re-watched this week.  It’s Rory Sutherland talking about the value of advertising and how it changes our perception of products.  Whilst many may feel it shows why advertising is a bad thing, it also shows why what advertising achieves is useful in other areas and why it’s a fascinating industry to work in.  Rory Sutherland himself is also massively entertaining.

A book: I’ve been reading quite a lot of books lately on dealing with anxiety and depression (something which I expect I’ll write more about some time) and also the general area of getting more done in life and managing work better.  One book I’ve found is definitely from the latter but had massive parallels with the former and was really interesting and so I’d recommend it to anyone.  It’s called How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott.  Don’t let the title put you off as it includes some really useful tips but is also an easy read.

A film:  I’m going to recommend a film even though I’ve not seen it (yet).  I’ve had a long standing love affair with the photographs of Vivian Maier and I want everyone to know about her.  This week the documentary Finding Vivian Maier about how her photographs were discovered and about the woman herself was released.  I imagine it’ll only be on at independent art cinemas, although I’ve not spotted it on at my own local one yet, but keep an eye out.  An amazing photographer and an amazing story.

Another TV series:  This week saw the return of Coast to BBC2 starting with a look at both sides of the English Channel.  It’s great that this series has continued when the original premise was just to go round the coast of the UK in one series, and it always finds things that are fascinating.  This week included amongst other things Mont St Michel (which I love from my one visit anyway), some impressive beach art at Arromanches, the dramatic Vauban forts off the coast of St Malo (a town which looks like somewhere I should visit some time anyway) and the interesting and surprisingly unknown story of the SS Mendi that sank of the Isle of Wight during the First World War.

An open letter:  Finally, and not something unique to this week but I think is worth reading and re-reading is this amusing Open Letter to Metrolink.  It’s nearly a year old now, but it is the result of someone finally getting so frustrated about problems with Manchester’s tram system that they penned this amusing open letter to its director.  Anyone who commutes regularly will share the pain.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

Actually it’s not just things I’ve been in to this week as I’ve not done this post for two weeks thanks t0 busy weekends and work, so here’s a bit of a summary:

A TV series:  I don’t watch loads of TV these days and yet I have a real soft spot for those series where they send in an expert to improve a business, and so Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector Returns has become a highlight of the week.  This series shows Alex Polizzi returning to hotels that she improved before to see what’s happened since.  I also admit to a lot of childish humour at this week’s hotelier being called Muff, but then Channel 5 also shouldn’t keep using so much innuendo in its voiceover.

A song:  Last weekend I went to the wedding of two of my closest friends (more on this later), and it was there that I discovered that we share one of the same songs as a favourite from a musical which is Anthem from Chess.  It was brilliantly and emotionally performed at the evening reception by Nigel Richards, but as that’s not available online here’s the original version of it sung by Tommy Körberg:

A quotation:  One of my ambitions has always been to write my a novel, so this quotation from J K Rowling really appealed:

The best place to write, in my opinion, is a cafe; you don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t feel that you are in solitary confinement while you work and when inspiration fails, you can walk to the next cafe while your batteries re-charge.

I found the quotation in the excellent How to be a Writer by Stewart Ferris, and it sums up my thoughts.  I may not be a writer (yet, I’ll say optimistically) but I am always more productive and thoughtful in somewhere like a cafe, a bar or on a train.

An article:  In Berlin they’re planning to build a joint church/mosque/synagogue called The House of One.  The BBC Magazine has the story and it’s quite interesting to see how it’s come about and how the design will work.

Another TV series:  It feels a bit pointless to write about this given that’s it’s finished and no longer on iPlayer, but I downloaded Happy Valley a few weeks ago and I’ve finally watched it and it’s brilliant.  As I work with people who live in the Calder Valley, I know its depiction of people there as constantly on drugs and as crooks didn’t exactly endear it to the local residents, but having finally been convinced I should watch it I am very impressed.  Dramatic and hard hitting and emotional, yet at the same time quite heart warming and showing (most) of the police in a good light.  I’ve also always rated Sarah Lancashire as an actor and so I also like it from that point of view.  But as it also includes lots of places I know from working in Hebden Bridge it’s quite interesting and it’s definitely worth watching.  I expect it’ll be back as a repeat at some point, but also I gather there’ll be a second series, so look out for it.

A wedding:  As I mentioned before, two of my closest friends Ed Fordham and Russell Eagling married at Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in Hampstead last weekend.  They’ve been together for 16 years and I’ve known both of them since I was at university, and it’s great that they could finally could get married following the passing of the equal marriage legislation last year.  It was a brilliant occasion, and I just couldn’t let this post go by without a mention.  There’s been a lot on mine and other’s Twitter (it’s pretty much the Lib Dem Wedding of the Year), and this article from the Camden New Journal tells you some of the essentials.

A series of books:  I blogged about this the other week, but it’s worth repetition.  I’ve finally discovered Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct crime books and I’m really chuffed that I have.  I’ve always liked police procedurals as form of crime novel, and I always knew that Ed McBain was one of the most well regarded in that genre, and so I went in to Ed McBain’s books hoping for the best.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Another article:  I’ve noticed lately how many Jehovah’s Witnesses have suddenly appeared hanging around railway stations.  This article from the BBC Magazine explains how it’s part of a new strategy.  Whilst I don’t really want to be approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the street, I do wonder however, how this subtle approach of just holding out copies of their magazine near stations gets them anywhere.

Another song:  One of my favourite songs of this year (although it was actually released last year) is Help Me Lose My Mind from Disclosure featuring London Grammar.  It’s catchy, dancey but with a slight melancholy ambient feel, and makes me think of late nights relaxing to music with friends.  This video from YouTube is very well put together and fits perfectly, and is unusually good for a ‘fan video’.

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct

Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series of detective stories are set, unsurprisingly, in the 87th Precinct of the fictional American district of Isola (essentially Manhattan) are often cited as an inspiration for future crime writers.  For that simple reason I’ve long intended to start reading them, but had always thought, logically, that I should start at the beginning.  In the end, after realising that reading them in order whilst beneficial is not essential, I decided to just start with one of the few that I already owned – a slightly musty 1973 hardback copy of Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man that once belonged to my parents.  Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man is the 27th in the 57 strong series of books, a series which, if I continue at my usual speed of reading, and despite me being only 38, would see me die before I have read every one.  The reason for this post though is to declare simply that I’ve fallen in love with them after just one book.

It has often been said that Ed McBain was the inspiration behind Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö’s Martin Beck books, (a series up there as some of my favourites), but in a recent interview, Maj Sjöwall stated that she only discovered them when the two started being compared.  Never the less, you can see why they are so often compared as both series are forerunners of many of the grittier police procedurals that now sell in their millions every year.  It seems perhaps that, like the invention of photography, two sets of people had the same sort of idea at around the same time, which makes people assume one must have been the predecessor of the other.  Actually, once Sjöwall and Wahlöö tracked down and read their first 87th Precinct book they encouraged their publisher to republish them in Swedish with them doing the translating.

There’s much that can be said about the brilliant plots – two running concurrently despite the book being fairly short – the realistic sense of camaraderie between the police detectives in the story, and the clever way it develops.  But what really stood out for me were the brilliant words.  What Ed McBain manages to do is tell a simple short story using beautiful language but without over-complicating the smooth reading of the book.  It’s not about the vocabulary that is used, but the turn of phrase.  Take this for example:

The rain swept the pavements like machine-gun fire, in some gray disputed no-man’s land.  A jagged lance of lightning crackled across the sky, followed by a boom of thunder that rattled Carella to his shoelaces.

Dramatic, beautiful language that brings the story to life, but without using complicated vocabulary.  It’s a real skill.  What is even more amazing is the two pages spent describing how wonderful [New York] city is, by essentially and in a very un-PC way comparing her to a scruffy loose woman.  It’s a complete aside to the plot, but just really works at that particular point.  Amazing.  But then Ed McBain did describe the city as a character in the plot in her own right.

The 87th Precinct books are inevitably slightly dated, largely in the use of language that would these days be considered racist and sexist, although Ed McBain (or Salvatore Lombino as he was born, or Evan Hunter as he became later) would have been considered pretty liberal for the time.  This particular book is also dated by the way that the bank branch manager is expected to agree a loan for a speculative property development.  But beyond that this book seems pretty fresh now, even 40 years after it was published.

I can add a new crime writer to my list of favourite authors.  The question now is how on earth I’ll find the time to read them all.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A statue:  I tweeted a picture of the John Betjeman statue at London St. Pancras Station last Sunday saying it was one of my favourite statues, and was surprised it was retweeted 20 times by people I don’t know (I think it may have something to do with this man retweeting it).  But it’s a great statue of a poet whose poetry I love anyway, and it captures really well not only him as a person but his belief in the glories of St. Pancras Station.

A pub:  As you’ll have guessed, I was in London last weekend, and I made sure I called in to my favourite pub in the capital – the Founders Arms at Bankside.  And the reason it’s my favourite pub is its view and nothing at all to do with its drink, food or decor (although that’s not too bad).  Looking out over the Thames watching the boats going up and down and the amazing architecture of the City of London on the opposite bank, makes it a perfect place to sit and drink.  As a result it gets very busy of course, but you can usually find a spot.  The best time to be there though is just before sunset as the ‘golden hour’ takes affect and creates the wonderful glow on the surrounding buildings.

An article:  There was an excellent article in The Independent Magazine last Saturday about Labour’s MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy.  It’s a really good insight in to someone who’s gained a reputation for her campaigning on national issues, and who people talk about as a star of the future.  She’s also managed that unusual feat of using social media a lot and appearing both human and political.  I asked a Lib Dem friend who lives in that part of London whether she really is as good as the reports suggest, and his answer was that she really is that good.

A line from a TV programme:  This comes from one of the best ever comedies – Yes, Prime Minister – and in this episode Prime Minister Jim Hacker believes that the Employment Secretary Dudley is plotting to overthrow him (Series 2, Episode 1 “Man Overboard”).  It’s only a short exchange but it’s one of my favourites:

Jim: It’s envy you know. Dudley is consumed with envy.
Bernard: It’s one of the seven Dudley sins.

An exhibition:  There’s not long left of the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum (two days in fact) and so it’s time to visit if you haven’t.  I only just managed it last weekend.  It really gives a strong sense of what life was like in those times, the amazing art from that time (which we probably don’t generally realise) and the distances they travelled.  It isn’t just about raping and pillaging in the North of England.

A song:  Sometimes a song just comes in to your head for no apparent reason even though it’s not a song you listen to very often.  Last Sunday evening on the train back home it was Glorious by Captain.  A catchy sang that’s upbeat but also I detect a bit of angst.  What amazes me is how recent this song is and how unsuccessful it was commercially.  Sadly I’m not able to embed the video to this site, but you can watch it here.

Two more exhibitions:  Another trip last weekend was to The Photographers’ Gallery to see John Deakin and the Lure of Soho and also the nominees for the Deutsche Börse Prize.  John Deakin’s photos of Soho in the 50s and 60s really conjure up that time and a slightly curious mixture of glamour and mystery.  The Deutsche Börse Prize is one of the most prestigious annual photography competitions.  The nominees are always massively different and always fascinating, with my favourites this year being the eventual winner Richard Mosse with large format images of Congo using infrared film, and Alberto García-Alix with his four decades of personal and at times intimate scenes.  The Photographers’ Gallery is an amazing place and really handy near Oxford Circus and it’s free entry.  I just wish I could spend more time there.

A TV series:  There’s only three days left of the BBC’s A Very British Airline, but I recommend watching it before it disappears.  A glimpse in to the day to day life of British Airways.  It is a brilliant sales job for the company as you realise how particular and how meticulous (and I mean really meticulous) they are at making everything right, but it’s also quite inspiring to see the effort that goes in to create a genuinely quality brand.  A brand that I’d always seen as old-fashioned and fuddy duddy, but in this you realise is actually trying to become more modern whilst keeping many of their old values.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A painting:  Last weekend I had a brief look around parts of Tate Modern, having never been and finding myself in the area, but then leaving after not long as it was just so busy.  However, this was the painting that stuck in my mind – Seated Woman with Small Dog by Meraud Guevara.  It’s perspective is a little weird but it makes you think – who is she, what’s she doing there, what’s she thinking about?

A map (or two):  As a geographer it’s inevitable that I love maps.  And it’s political geography that I particularly love.  I also quite like some of these counterfactual histories you get.  So what better than two maps that show what the Middle East might be like if boundaries were determined on what would make more practical sense and what makes religious, ethnic or linguistic sense.  These things are always controversial and open for debate and suspicions of motives, so I’m not endorsing any of these ideas, but these two from Ralph Peters and Robin Wright are particularly interesting and share some similarities, and it’s interesting to read the logic behind the boundaries and what the affect could be.

A song:  I was listening to Amy Winehouse on the way to work this week (partly inspired by reading this interesting book about Nica Rothschild), and one song from her first album Frank that’s always been a favourite is Take the Box.  It’s not one of her best known songs by any stretch of the imagination, but it shows off her voice well.

A blog post:  Mark Wallace of Conservative Home has written an interesting piece about how the Conservatives won the Newark by-election.  What strikes me from this article and what I’ve heard elsewhere is how much the Conservatives turned this in to quite a Lib Dem style of campaign by bringing in loads of helpers and picking on good local issues.  But what I also found interesting was a Conservative squeeze letter that Wallace mentions in his article that encouraged Labour and Lib Dem voters to tactically vote Conservative to keep Ukip out – having seen a copy it was a very well written letter that I can see would have worked well.

A photography exhibition:  Another discovery at Tate Modern was the exhibition of Incidents by Henry Wessel.  This show is highlights from a collection of photographs recently purchased by Tate Modern and depicts glimpses of ordinary life on the American West Coast.  Quiet and unassuming but full of intrigue.

A fresh start to my blogging

It had always been my plan that once I retired as a councillor I would get this blog up and running again.  Well here I am trying to make it happen and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it lasts.

I always enjoyed blogging, but after a steady decline in the frequency of posts through 2009 and first half of 2010, it just ground to a halt completely with only intermittent posts up to a final one in August 2012.  It isn’t a coincidence that it ground to a halt when I became a councillor.  I tried to keep up a MyCouncillor site instead about what I was doing as a councillor, but I found that difficult to keep going as well.  Perhaps I was too busy and too tired.  Perhaps I just lost the enthusiasm for constant writing.  Perhaps I was too wary of writing stuff when everything I said would be scrutinised by the opposition.  Whatever the reason, I had stopped doing something that I had previously really enjoyed and which I know some other people quite enjoyed reading too.  After all, there were nearly 27,000 views in 2009 and so I must have been doing something right.

Dawning realisation

Over the last 18 months to two years it’s become increasingly clear to me how much my life has become pretty one-dimensional.  My day job is in politics.  In my spare time I do politics.  Plus I was a councillor, which is of course politics.  I’m still passionate about politics but it’s not all there is to my life.  In fact for ages I’ve been moaning that I don’t have time for my other hobbies and interests.  If you combine this with the thought that I’ll soon be 40 and a growing sense that I am spending most of my non-work time fulfilling other people’s expectations and demands on my time rather than doing what I want, I decided it was time for a change.  It’s one reason I decided not to restand for council, it’s why I’m beginning (slowly) to rediscover some of my old interests and it’s also why I’m sort of trying to do something about the interests that I’ve always had but never done much about.

There’s a saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and in my case it was stumbling on the inspirational book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It’s not overstating things to say that I’ve become slightly obsessed with this book, and I decided that I needed to start to change things.  A part of that change is to try and live a more wholehearted life and do more of the many things that I enjoy.  It’s time to try and rediscover me.  Hopefully restarting this blog will be one small part of that.

Refreshing the blog

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is writing, in fact unusually the first job I ever said I wanted as a child was to be a writer, (actually, I said I wanted to be a bookmaker but fortunately my parents knew what I meant).  Well blogging isn’t quite the same as being a writer, but it’s a start.

So now I’m writing again, it’s felt like a good time for a refresh of the look of the blog, especially as I have some new ideas for things I want to write about.  I’ve picked a new ‘theme’ – this one’s called Suits – which replaces Vigilance.  I’ve also created new categories and tags for my new posts, and deleted some old ones to make this a clear break from what’s come before but without deleting the old posts that I’ve written as some of it I thought was quite good and I’m someone who likes to keep things for history’s sake.  I want to spend more time writing about the whole range of stuff I’m interested in rather than just concentrating on a small set of things, usually politics, and so it should feel quite different.

Now I just need to stick with it and make sure this blog works.  I’m going to start off slowly and gradually with some regular and perhaps more low key posts and hope it then becomes a habit.  One of which will be a (hopefully) weekly summing up of things I’ve liked and been in to, rather than struggling to write a whole post for every thing that I find interesting.  I’ll also start to publish some things I wrote ages ago but then never actually posted.  Fingers crossed it works.