Life

This week

My review of the week.  Here’s some of the things I’ve been in to:

A TV programme (and a book):  Last night BBC2 had a one-off programme Murder on the Victorian Railway about the first railway murder when a Thomas Briggs was killed in a train carriage near Hackney.  The programme comes shortly after I’ve read Kate Colquhoun’s book Mr Brigg’s Hat about the same murder, and the programme was based on that book.  After reading the book the programme felt very short, but it’s an interesting bit of social history at a time of massive change in terms of transport, increasing industrialisation, the growth of newspapers and attitudes towards different groups.

An article:  There was an interesting article on the BBC website this week about a study in to DNA of people living in Britain, which amongst other things showed interesting stuff such as how different the Celtic parts of Britain are and how the North and South Welsh have less in common with each other than they do with the English.  Fascinating stuff and intriguing how even today there are such marked differences.

A TV series:  India’s Frontier Railways is a short but interesting series of programmes on BBC4.  The name is fairly self-explanatory but as well as the logistics of running these railways and the people involved, it shows an interesting contrast between the modernity of India’s big cities and the very different way of life in the more rural areas.

A book:  I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin’s books on happiness since I first read The Happiness Project a few years ago. A book I still return to every so often when I need a bit of inspiration. Some people are pretty sceptical about the surge in books dedicated to life improvement but what I particularly like about Gretchen Rubin’s books is how she takes the view that generally we are pretty happy but we might want some small incremental changes to our lives. She’s now brought out Better Than Before, about how to form good habits day to day.  My pre-ordered copy arrived yesterday and so I’m looking forward to reading it when I’ve finished my current pile of library books.

A TV series:  Caribbean with Simon Reeve starts tonight on BBC2 and as I’ve always loved his programmes I’ll recommend it now before I’ve seen a programme.  Simon Reeve always manages to show places and sides to those places that you’ve not seen before, and he as an informed curiosity that I think makes him head and shoulders above many other travel presenters who often appear to know very little about the place they’ve gone to.  He also does it without patronising and belittling the locals.

A TED talk:  This has been one of those weeks when there hasn’t been much that is worth picking out for my review, so I’m going to add in this TED talk from Thomas Heatherwick as it’s one of my favourites from the TED website. Thomas Heatherwick has designed some amazing structures but yet seems a surprisingly nervous character when on a big stage although he clearly relaxes as he gets in to his stride.  Even if Thomas Heatherwick isn’t someone you’ve come across before you will recognise some of his work and it reminds you of how clever designers and architects can be and how when they do something well it can bring a lot of pleasure to daily life.

This week

My review of the week.  Here’s some of the things I’ve been in to:

A TV series:  It feels surprising that this is the first time they’ve done a series showing daily life in the House of Commons as it sounds like such an uncontroversial idea, but Inside the Commons is a fascinating series even for those like me who have some idea already on how it works.  Whilst it shows the way our democracy operates in all its ridiculousness, what I feel it also shows is that MPs are on the whole decent normal people.  For some reason the series is only available on iPlayer for seven days and so I missed the first programme, but they seem to be planning to repeat it fairly quickly.

A YouTube video and an article:  It’s maps, transport and London, all things that I have a nerdy interest in.  This film is about how the tube map will cope later this year when Transport for London take over of a number of railway lines and the first changes are made in preparation for Crossrail.  Geoff Marshall’s films about transport in London are always good, but you can either watch the film about it or if you have less time read the article on the Londonist website.


A radio series:  This week was the start of a new series of Radio 4’s The Long View.  It’s one of those programmes that those of us who work full time don’t usually get to listen to as it’s on during working hours but it’s definitely worth seeking out as all previous episodes can be listened to on iPlayer.  The idea is simple.  It takes a current issue that’s being debated and then looks at what is said about it now but also finds parallels from history when the same sort of issue was being debated, usually talking to historians, journalists and politicians.  This week it looked at contemporary discussion about immigration alongside debates about the Aliens Act 1905.

A piece of art:  Magnesium Bird by Sutapa Biswas is a piece of contemporary audio visual art that is on display in the Graves Gallery in Sheffield, and I’ve always found it magical, mysterious, a little bit eerie but also strangely relaxing.  It’s difficult to give a real sense of it just from words and stills but this website post explains what it is.  But instead to get a real feel for it you’ll just have to visit the gallery to see it in person.  It’s always been one of my favourite pieces of art on display in the Graves Gallery.


A TED talk:  There’s a few talks on TED about how workplaces and business can be run better, but this one from Ricardo Semler called ‘How to Run a Company with (almost) no Rules’ is a little bit different.  Although he’s not well known in the UK he runs one of the most successful businesses in Brazil and has a quirky and very unconventional way of running the business.  Perhaps not all of it can be duplicated but it presents some interesting ideas.

A website: One of my earliest transport interests was ferries. An unconventional one admittedly, but I think it stems from travelling between Sweden and UK as a child. This week I discovered the Ferry Crossings website which whilst largely intended to be a guide for people wanting to know more about the best routes to use for taking a ferry across the English Channel, North Sea or Irish Sea and how to find the best deals, it also contains a little bit of history about ferry companies.  This article about The Rise and Fall of the Sealink Ferry Service is quite interesting if you’re in to your transport history.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

An exhibition:  I managed to find a little bit of time this week to visit the brilliant exhibition at Sheffield’s Graves Gallery: The Great Outdoors – Paintings by Stanley Royle.  Stanley Royle is one of Sheffield’s greatest painters and this exhibition brings together paintings from the city’s own collection with loans from various private collections.  What I love about his paintings is how much they conjure up not only how Sheffield looks, but most of all how it feels to be in that particular spot.  Many of his paintings are views of the city, (although this exhibition is wider than that), but those paintings that aren’t even literal truths as to how that scene looks really work well at creating a sense of the place.

A writer and a documentary:  Ian Nairn has been in the spotlight quite a bit lately following the reprinting at the end of last year of his book Nairn’s London which has led to a few good posts on this iconic book, such as this from Diamond Geezer and this on the London Historians blog.  He was someone I was aware of, but having now seen so much about him I’m astonished I’ve not been more familiar with his writing and his TV programmes.  Ian Nairn was an architecture critic from the late 50s to the 70s, but that doesn’t give a proper sense of his passion for communities and general sense of place.  Whilst some of his opinions feel a little contradictory at times, his passionate and fascinating writing and ability to discover lesser known places is something that hugely appeals.  This weekend I watched this excellent BBC4 documentary from early 2014 called The Man Who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn and is well worth watching.

A set of TV series:  Channel 4’s three new series Cucumber, Banana and Tofu have been billed as the Queer as Folk of the 2010s, and apart from their obvious similarities given they’re all written by Russell T Davies and all set in Manchester it’s a pretty fair comparison.  When I first watched Queer as Folk in the late 90s the gay world was still new to me and the ‘scene’ itself was still only finding its feet as something confident and not to be ashamed of.  Now, 15 or so year later it’s a very different place and these three series really show that and they’ve been excellent.  Although the shock value of Queer as Folk isn’t there, it’s still quite loud, brash and proud, but also with more heartwarming scenes.  Cucumber on Channel 4 is centered largely around middle-aged gay men although it features many younger characters too and is a series with a storyline running all through it.  Banana on E4 centres largely on younger characters which crosses with the stories in Cucumber but instead each is a self-contained story.  Tofu on 4OD however is very different as it’s two documentaries that talk about sex with opinions from the actors from the series as well as the public.

A song:  I heard this blast from the past in a bar this week and it’s a song I’ve always loved.  Ride on Time from Black Box is very much of its time (1989) and reminds me so much of my childhood and a time when I was only just starting to get in to music.  I remember having it on one of those compilation double cassettes that were so popular at the time and would listen to it a lot.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TV programme: After last week’s completely unsurprising enthusiasm for Alex Polizzi, this week it’s the return of Dragons’ Den on BBC Two.  The current series suddenly stopped halfway through several months ago but has now resumed.  Always entertaining but also always quite inspiring when you see someone has come up with a really clever but quite simple business idea that the dragons’ love.

A pub: The Windsor Castle on Francis Street in Victoria in London is a beautiful pub that has become a bit of a regular haunt for me after Lib Dem meetings.  Although I’m not much of a fan of Samuel Smith’s beer, (apart from its price) this is an amazingly grand Victorian pub with lots of glass and brass and with big comfortable chairs in its back room and lots of room (including an upstairs room that most people don’t realise is there).

A hotel chain: Although I often stay with friends when I’m in London I’ve increasingly stayed in a cheap hotel so I’ve got that bit more independence and don’t need to worry about rolling in drunk late at night.  After trying out some quite frankly appalling hovels of hotels I finally discovered easyHotel.  These are part of the same brand as easyJet and so whilst basic are at least of a decent standard and very orange.  They’re clean, fully en suite and comfortable, but don’t expect much room or any facilities beyond a bed, towels, toilet and shower.  That’s it, but given I rarely spend much time in a hotel room it’s perfect and my favourite one on Old Street nearly always has rooms.  The prices range from £35 up to about £80, although usually I’ve paid somewhere in the middle which I think is very good for something you know is going to be of an OK standard in central London.

A guided walk: Last weekend was the first time I’ve done a London Walk in ages, which have traditionally always been a staple of my London trips.  This one was called Mayflower to Brunel’s Tunnel and explored Bermondsey and Rotherhithe both of which were areas I didn’t know at all, but now I wonder how I could have gone without for so long.  It was a fascinating walk with a great guide, some amazing views along the river, great history and buildings.  Definitely recommended, and one I’d been planning to do for ages.

A song:  OK, this isn’t what you’d expect me to pick given my previous choices, although I suppose it was in Eurovision.  As part of the monthly vortex we do in Listening Club, I had to find a song that was two minutes or less, which is pretty hard to find in my collection.  But I stumbled on this which whilst not my usual choice of music sounds surprisingly fresh even though very much of its time and is annoyingly catchy –  Sing, Little Birdie by Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A word: Thanks to a work colleague this week I discovered the Japanese word tsundoku which is the act of buying books and then leaving them piled up to read later.  It pretty much describes my flat and my life more generally.  At the same time I discovered the French word l’esprit d’escalier which is to think what you should have said during a conversation when it’s too late. Another common occurrence. This website provided me with a few more, although not all may be that useful.

A blog: I’ve been a fan of the Diamond Geezer blog for some years and I’m firmly of the view that what he has dubbed his ‘pointless London quests’ are the highlights of his writing, and he is just starting a new one.  DG writes a well written post every single day, which I’d love to emulate here but just know I never will, usually on interesting little known places in London, transport stories (with a particular interest in his own area of Bow and the Emirates ‘dangleway’) and really anything that he thinks is interesting.  It’s fascinating, albeit in quite a geeky way.  His new pointless London quest is to visit London’s unlost rivers over 2015 i.e. the many rivers within London that are still there but overshadowed by the Thames, rather than the now ubiquitous lost rivers.  His first is the River Shuttle.

A TED talk: This is just quite a nice talk by Daniele Quercia about the dangers of mapping apps just sending us on the fastest route, when what we need is an app that can also send us on the most beautiful, or the quietest or use some other characteristic.  As someone who loves to spend his time just wandering streets exploring this really appeals to me, although personally my answer is to use a printed map and just see where I end up.


A TV series: OK, so it’s had enough attention already but the first episode of Broadchurch was very good. Whilst I did really enjoy the first series of the much praised programme, I was never convinced it was quite as deserving of the massive amount of hype that it got.  This first episode of this new series though dispelled any doubts that the second series wouldn’t be up to the mark. The secrecy with which the producers and writers go about making and releasing details of the series also means it’ll be full of unexpected twists and it includes some interesting new characters.

A blog post: Everyone loves a list these days, and Caron Lindsay has produced a brilliant list on Lib Dem Voice of ‘48 good things Nick Clegg has done.’  It’s an interesting list as it picks out not only the achievements that the Lib Dems will want to trumpet, but also many smaller more subtle things.  Given the flack Nick gets it’s nice to see something positive for a change that is quite good at showing the real Nick, that many of us who’ve known him for years have always liked.

An article: Admittedly I initially read this article as I know Laura Willoughby who gets a mention, but I found its discussion on groups trying to reduce alcohol consumption among people who perhaps aren’t alcoholics but do still drink more than they should.  Whilst it’s focused largely on women, the issue it raises is universal, and one I certainly can relate to. I’ve been determined to drink less in this year which is both about saving money and improving health, which is largely about dealing with regular low level drinking rather than occasional excessive nights out that don’t occur that often. So far it’s gone well.

Another TV series: Silent Witness is back and it’s another of my favourite regular series on the BBC. The stories are well written and the lead characters are good despite occasional changes over the years it’s been running. For a series that was dominated by Amanda Burton when it began it’s impressive how much Emilia Fox has made it her own. I accept that a pathologist wouldn’t get involved in all the things they do in the series, but if it was that realistic no one would probably watch it.

Another article: The former Labour MP Tony Wright has written an interesting article on the LSE politics and policy blog about ‘The problem of politics as a game‘.  The issue he raises is something that has become increasingly of concern to me and I think is partly what has led to the rise of some of the fringe parties along with an undeserved general contempt for politicians. What I think the article doesn’t do is mention that this is an issue that not only politicians need to address but the media, campaign groups and even voters too. It is much wider and politicians cannot do it on their own as the first to ‘say it as it is’ will probably be destroyed.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A food and drink place:  I’d say cafe, but it’s not really that, nor is it a bar nor a restaurant.  Craft & Dough in Kelham Island, Sheffield is a bit of all of those.  It sells some amazing looking pizzas, great coffee, cocktails, craft beers, ice cream and general brunchy type stuff, and is open from 9am in to the evening.  It opened a couple of weeks ago but the advantage of a week off work is that I could pop in for the first time and it’s already doing well.  A great addition to Kelham Island and as it’s owned by the Milestone down the road it has a good pedigree.

A TV series:  As my previous posts will confirm I love the ‘behind the scenes at…’ type programmes and so Posh People: Inside Tatler on BBC2 was one I wanted to watch despite me thinking the people in it would just annoy people.  Well they didn’t annoy me, but it did make me realise how little I have in common with these people and how their world and mine are so utterly different, although I confess to having met one of the people in the programme (the Earl of Glasgow who is a Lib Dem peer and a genuinely lovely man).  It’s interesting to see though quite how this world functions and how removed it is from ordinary life.

An exhibition:  The other week I finally visited an exhibition I’ve been looking forward to and it was wealth worth the wait – Constructing Worlds at the Barbican in London.  It brought together two things I’ve always found fascinating – architecture and photography, and includes some photographers whose work I enjoy such as Bernd & Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans and Ed Ruscha, but also introduced me to some other great photographers such as Bas Princen and Hiroshi Sugimoto,  The Barbican’s photography exhibitions are always very well done and this one was no exception.

A song:  This isn’t a new song but one I’ve listened to a lot this year and having heard it twice playing in the background in the last week I felt I should include it.  The Mother We Share by Chvrches is a catchy indypop type song and a great singer and one that definitely sticks in your mind.


A TV programme: Billion Pound Base: Dismantling Camp Bastion was a one-0ff programme on Channel 4 showing the lead up to the departure of UK troops from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.  What strikes you is the scale of the place (the same size as Reading!) and the careful and methodical way the base has to be deconstructed  whilst still ensuring troops are safe from Taliban attacks.  You also can’t help but feel that the Afghan troops are woefully under-prepared for what they’re taking on and yet also how ungrateful they are for the equipment the UK troops are leaving them.  Worth a watch just to shed a light on something we generally know so little about.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TED talk:  This recent talk by Kare Anderson is an inspiring encouragement to us all to try and get people together who have the same enthusiasms and who can make an idea they have a success if they just worked together on it.  The term she uses is ‘opportunity makers’ which I think is quite nice.  What I also like is her acknowledgment how difficult this can be for people who are shy.


A TV series:  This is an old one, so a bit different from usual.  I discovered Building Sights by chance on iPlayer and it’s a series from the late 1980s and 1990s of personal thoughts on  some of the most important British architecture of the twentieth century.  The presenters are a diverse group of people including architects such as Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers, to musicians, presents and artists such as Jools Holland, Janet Street-Porter and Bea Campbell.

Another TV series:  I loved the first series of Liberty of London on Channel 4 and this new series has got off to a really good start.  Although I enjoy this time of programme anyway I particularly enjoy this one because it gives you a better idea of how they operate and some of the people who work there than most.  The first episode of this second series is a really promising start as well giving a more wide ranging idea of how the shop is run as well as some of the day to day tensions and issues.  My experience of working in a customer-facing industry is that it can be pressured and difficult but hugely satisfying when things work well and this shows that.

An event:  Pecha Kucha is something I find most people have never heard of, but those who have are usually evangelists.  It started in Japan and involves invited speakers to talk about something they care about or have done to a set of prepared Powerpoint slides.  The skill is that they have 20 slides and each appears on screen for just 20 seconds and so once they’ve started they have to keep going.  I’ve been to a few Pecha Kucha Sheffield events now and I always learn something new and discover some interesting people doing interesting things.  Well worth going to and the next one is on next week.

And another TV series: Alan Yentob’s BBC culture series Imagine… is always worth watching, but his two part programme ‘The Art that Hitler Hated‘ about the suppression of modern art by the Nazis and those who profited from forced sales of Jewish art is particularly good.  Since the programme was produced the story has moved on a little, but it’s an interesting aspect of European cultural history.  It’s on iPlayer for another couple of weeks.