December 31, 2003
Five Pounds - Five books

Oh - whilst I’m in hyper-blogging mode - I just remembered a little mental note I made the other day to blog about.

It was just before the Christmas Bank Holiday - a couple of days before in fact - and I had to spend the day in Slough for reasons of work. Well I popped out at lunchtime to grab a bite to eat - there’s a shopping mall not to far from the office. Boy was it packed or what! The people of Slough really do like to go shopping! The crowds were far worse than I’ve seen Brent Cross or Harrow (which are the shopping malls nearer to where I live).

I never did end up getting my sandwich - instead I got magnetically drawn to a bookshop that was “closing down” and “every book one pound”. I spent what seemed like the best part of an hour in there - trying to be sensible and not trying to take out two carrier-bags full of books. Instead I remembered that I only had £5 in my pocket - and so I duly spent all that time selecting just five books - fiction. Now - I wasn’t foolish enough to think that the books on sale for £1 each were going to be bestsellers - so I spent most of the time doing what I know I shouldn’t do - which is to go by the newspaper quotes on the back covers. You know - those quotes which go something like “It reads like Catcher in the Rye with high explosives - Daily Telegraph” The idea being that the more familiar and respected the newspaper offering the complimentary quote - the more likely better the read.

So these are what I ended up with (the prices shown are the original cover price):

Killing Paparazzi Robert M. Eversz £9.99Slow Reckoning Tom Athanasiou £7.99The Dog King Christoph Ransmayr £6.99English Weather Neil Ferguson £6.99This Side of Brightness Colum McCann £6.99

So - by my reckoning - I’ve saved nearly £34 - that’s 88% of the total of the original cover prices. So - that shop is my favourite shop in Slough at the moment. I wonder how long it’ll be in “closing down” mode for? And I wonder if the books I bought are any good?

Posted by jag at 03:26 PM | Comments (9)

Not too long ago - maybe less than 4 years ago - there was a young Unix systems admin contractor working in our ops team at work. His name was Paul. He was a smart cookie - and on recognising his talents I arranged to have him transferred to my team. He did some PERL development work for us for a while - and then he decided to move on to a job elsewhere. Less than a year later - at the height of the dot-com boom he was back with our company - and he was pretty much given the responsibility to develop prototype apps for rapid deployment - and he also had a colleague who worked with him called Graham. They were kind of PERL/PHP types - but they knew their stuff. In his spare time, Paul was a bit of a cinema buff. Him and his wife bought a house a couple of years ago - and it seems that location was less of a criteria than a decent-sized garage that could be converted into a home cinema. And that’s exactly what he did - a proper cinema projector and even installing two decks of real cinema style seating. He really loved film.

Now - sometime in the last couple of years Paul and Graham both decided to try a little business venture on the side. Totally in their spare time. The idea was a “by-post” DVD rental service which would use a website as the “shop”. They called it “DVDSONTAP”. The idea is that for less than £10 a month (less than the cost of Sky Movies subscription) you could watch as many DVDs as you liked (one at a time on the basic service - and only limited by the turnaround time of the postal service) and you could keep them for as long as you like (unlike the late fees you get charged at places like Blockbuster) and they had access to a catalogue as big as Blockbuster - if not bigger. It was a great concept - and when I heard about it I decided to become a customer - and I have been one ever since. Especially as there is another advantage (as if they needed one) that they had over Blockbuster: they had an “Indian Cinema” category in their catalogue - and a lot of my Bollywood-loving friends now swear by this fantastic service on my recommendation.

Well the service became so successful (with Paul and Graham being featured as major entrepreneurs in a major UK newspaper) that they decided to leave their day-jobs with us and go it full time with DVDSONTAP - especially now that the business was expanding and some venture capital funding had made it their way. And so it seems that the marketing boys have finally arrived as DVDSONTAP has now rebranded to LOVEFiLM - and the catalogue is now absolutely HUGE - and the Indian Cinema section is now much BIGGER than it was previously. But the service is still as efficient as it has always been.

And they are now considerably wealthier as a result. My hat goes off to them! Well done to Paul and Graham!

WARNING - For fast-car fans only: As a testament to their new found wealth - do a RIGHT-CLICK-AND-SAVE-TARGET-AS here - to download a 2Mbyte Windows movie file that has been circulating Ferrari-lovers bulletin boards all around the world. It’s a short video of someone in the passenger-side of Graham’s new TVR - filming Paul in his new Ferrari cruising through outer-London country roads! When it’s downloaded - double-click on it - and then turn up the volume and listen to the guy who’s doing the commentary - at one point it sounds like he is going to go to the toilet right there and then. Also listen to the roar of the Ferrari as Paul puts his foot down. I’m sure some of you will really appreciate that. (ANOTHER WARNING: The video features some explicit language by the commentator!)

Anyway - LOVEFiLM operates a “rental queue” concept - which is where you can nominate as many DVDs as you like to be in your priority list - and when you’ve finished with a DVD and sent it back - the next available film in your rental queue will be posted to you. Having just sent “Phone Booth” back - I am now awaiting an Indian film called “16 December”. Directed by Mani Shankar and starring, amongst others, models-turned-actor/actress Milind Soman and the Assamese Dipannita Sharma. Yes - probably not very well known Indian actors/actresses - but interesting choices from the debut director nevertheless.

16 December - Indian film next in my rental queue from LOVEFiLM

Posted by jag at 06:58 AM | Comments (6)
December 30, 2003
New Year New Toy

I treated myself to a new toy for the New Year: a new digital camera. After around six months of on-and-off research into digital camera technology I finally plumped for the Sony Cybershot DSC-V1.

My new toy for the New Year

The best price I could get it at was at the Amazon shop - and you may find a very thorough review of it at DPreview too - a review that compares it quite closely with two other cameras in its class - the Canon PowerShot G5 and the Nikon Coolpix 5400 - both slightly better all-round in terms of technical specification - but it was the relative compactness, speed of operation and price of the Sony that sold it to me.

Check out some galleries of Sony DSC-V1 pics here and here.

I’m really looking forward to my new toy!

Posted by jag at 07:15 PM | Comments (10)
December 29, 2003

Once a month - at around about this time (approximately 3 working days until the start of a new calendar month) - me and Ms.79 set aside a couple of hours to do all of our bill reviews, bill payments, money-in-the-bank-optimisations and other ad-hoc finance-related things. All of this is done on-line - and can sometimes be quite a chore and almost always involves some tricky juggling acts. Let me explain …

Ever since we bought our current home nearly two years ago - we decided to open up one of those “debt” bank accounts to service the mortgage. This is the type of account that is an alternative to your conventional mortgage repayment account in the sense that it is a universal account for all our “money in” and all our “money out” - and since the largest “money out” item that we had on the account when we opened it around 2 years ago was the mortgage advance for our house purchase, the account shows that we are constantly in debt - although that debt is constantly being eroded by “money in” salary payments and other ad-hoc bits of income. There are many different banks which do accounts like this - but we use Virgin One. The problem is that for one reason or another which I won’t go into here - only my salary gets paid into that account. Ms.79 has a separate account with an Internet bank called Smile for her salary - and we also have a joint account with Halifax which is where we both used to have our salary paid - but we now just use for some direct debits that we cannot easily find ways of moving - and for petty cash withdrawals funded by monthly top-ups from our other accounts. I also have credit cards from Barclaycard and a chargecard from Diners Club. Every month we review our bills and pay off any that aren’t paid automatically - e.g. credit cards and ad-hoc bills - and every month we play a careful game of rebalancing our accounts so that the maximum possible is used to erode the debt in the mortgage account without leaving us dangerously “non-liquid”.

The “juggling act” that I referred to earlier is not so much to do with the movement of money described above - but more to do with the fact that we generally have to huddle around my laptop and log-in to around 5 or 6 different websites all at the same time: banks, credit-cards, service providers etc. Each site has a completely different type of secure sign-in procedure which involve various combinations of username, id numbers, pin-codes, passwords, memorable names, memorable dates, security phrases, key codes etc. and each involves different (and often randomised) challenges to different digits or characters of some of those codes. We normally store all of our “precious” authorisation credentials in a very-high-bit-length encrypted database on a separate personal organiser that we carry around with us - so logging into all these websites involves cross-referencing with the data in our encrypted database - so lots of switching between tiny personal organiser screen and keyboard and the laptop screen and keyboard as we are huddled there. And you have to act FAST - because by the time you have got to signing in to the last website - the first one might have expired its “security timeout”! And we often have to constantly randomly switch between windows to randomly press some keys and click some links - just so that we can keep the websites “alive” so that they don’t expire on us whilst we’re busy analysing or performing actions on our money and bills.

Anyway - the really smart thing about the Virgin One online banking facility is that you can categorise your “money in” and “money-out” with user-defined labels. And then you can produce reports and analyses of your spending patterns and incomes. I’ve never used that facility before because I’ve never had a substantial amount of prehistoric data of transactions in my account for the reports to be of any use - due to my account being fairly new - but this time I figured that I’ve had the account for nearly two years - so it might be worth generating some reports. And here is the most interesting report of our incomings and outgoings as per the categories that I defined. I have blurred out the actual values so that you don’t laugh at how little money we have to play with - but the percentages are intact, and this is what makes the analysis fascinating:

Where my money has gone in the last 2 years

Some questions that I would really love to know answers for are:

  • Is 40% of spend (not income) on mortgage typical for a UK person? I wonder how this compares for people in other countries?
  • Is 10% of spend (not income) on long-term savings typical?
  • Is 27% of spend (not income) on non-groceries (e.g. home items, clothes, gadgets, gifts, holiday stuff etc.) typical?
  • Is 7% of spend (not income) on groceries and other cash-related consumables (e.g. lunch money etc.) typical?
  • Is 9% of spend (not income) on home utility (i.e. Internet, satellite TV, energy, water, home insurance, car insurance, security, Council Tax) typical?
  • Is 4% of spend (not income) on life insurance and income protection typical?

Money: get back
I’m all right Jack
Keep your hands off my stack.

From a song called “Money” by Pink Floyd

Posted by jag at 06:42 AM | Comments (7)
December 24, 2003
Happy Holidays!

Try to hit santa with your snowballs:

A big thank you to all who have visited here over the last 2 years.

Have a great holiday!

Posted by jag at 01:40 PM | Comments (15)
December 23, 2003
Delicious Aloo Gobi

My turn to cook tonight - as always. Aloo Gobi this time. (Aloo=potato and Gobi=cauliflower.)

Get the following items together:

  • 1 large cauliflower - stripped of leaf, washed and broken into bite-sized florets
  • 2 large onions chopped into coarse chunks
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • Chunks of frozen, pre-pulped garlic, ginger and green-chillie
  • Spices: Turmeric (halidi), Garam Masala, Ground Coriander, Salt, Dried methi (fenugreek)
  • Seeds: Onion seed and Cumin (Jeera) seeds.
  • Some splashes of concentrated lemon juice
  • A large karahi (large pot a bit like a wok) in which to pour 3 or 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Heat the oil in the karahi until hot. Add the onion and cumin seeds and watch them pop and fizzle for around 20 seconds. Then add the coarsely chopped onions and fry until they are translucent.

Then add the pre-pulped garlic, ginger and chillie which you have stored away in your freezer - and stir fry until they are infused in the oil. Then add the powdered spices: 3 teaspons of garam masala, 2 teaspoons of ground coriander, 2 teaspoons of turmeric (haldi) and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir it all up until well mixed up.

Then add the chunks of potato - stir until well coated in spices and then put the lid on the karahi and let it simmer on a very low flame for around 15 mins. This will soften the potato a little. Then add the cauliflower florets and stir until fully coated and yellow looking. Again: put the lid back on and let heat on low simmer for around 20 minutes more.

After that - stir gently but thoroughly and turn flame off - and sprinkle on a generous handfull of fresh coriander leaf. Then put lid back on for around 10 minutes to rest. It’s then ready to serve!

Serve up with fresh roti (chapatti) or if you’re feeling lazy like me tonight - some warmed pitta breads - and a side salad of onion, cucumber, tomato and carrot all tossed in a few dashes of vinegar. Simple - but heavenly.

Delicious Aloo Gobi!


ps - the above final picture is shown with 50% of the aloo gobi removed - I put around half of it away in a glass bowl - which I covered in clingfilm and put in the fridge to eat tomorrow. This can be eaten with toast (just like with the roti or naan) - or as a toasted sandwich - or if you know how: as “gobi paratha” with achaar and cucumber yoghurt - which you will have to take my word is simply exquisite and is a “lunch to die for”.

Posted by jag at 10:29 PM | Comments (15)
December 21, 2003
Secret music

The good thing about listening to music from a walkman is that it’s entirely private. (Provided you don’t turn it up so loud that other people can hear of course.) You can listen to whatever you like and nobody will ever know. No possibility of embarrassment whatsoever. Spice Girls? Abba? The soundtrack to Amar Akbar Anthony? You can listen to whatever you like without the complication of third-party judgement of character. Your very own secret music.

I have a walkman. Actually it’s a tiny little MP3 Player that I bought several months ago - and it’s got enough memory to hold around 100 conventional album songs. Or even enough space to hold a week-of-commuting time’s worth of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. For this is indeed what I am currently listening to. For some strange reason it’s usually at this time of year that I blow the dust off my “Complete Piano Sonatas” CD set and transfer selections of it over to my walkman. In previous years I had to resort to recording as much as I could to cassette tape, which was an expensive and laborious task which almost inevitably resulted in me not listening to great swathes of the collection. Now all I do is rip the whole lot off onto a firewire hard disk and copy and paste any portion of the entire great swathe from the F: drive to the G: drive.

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas are my secret music. The works are simply genius. I enjoy all forms of music - but I wouldn’t call myself a music connoisseur. Am just as happy tapping my feet away to Destiny’s Child’s Independent Woman as I am immersing myself in the brilliance of Beethoven’s Sonata No.6 In F Major. What’s slightly embarrassing is the fact that these Sonatas form the only pieces of European classical music in my music collection. I am completely ignorant of, say, Mozart, Bach, Elgar, Strauss, Haydn or even other Beethoven - except where the works are popularised in some way - e.g. in film or TV etc. I always have a hard time explaining to people why I like these Piano Sonatas. e.g. my father (who simply can not understand how such music can be tolerated even for a minute) or Ms.79 (who cannot understand how I can be listening to Crucial Electro 2 hip hop one minute and then an “abstract” piano sequence the next). And because of that I try not to bother having to. Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas are my secret music.

The greatest pleasure arises from sitting at the very back of the the top deck of the bus with the volume turned up loud enough to shut out the ambient sounds of the bus whilst staring out of the window in a dreamy montage of of the world in slow motion juxtaposed with moving image of Beethoven animatedly performing at the keyboard of his piano. The effect is extremely moving. It’s almost as if you feel that Beethoven toiled throughout his life in order to bring us relief against the stresses of the modern world.

What is it about Ludwig Van Beethoven? He was not a child prodigy unlike many other composers in that era - e.g. Mozart. He was born in Bonn in Germany in 1770. His dad was an alcoholic and had a bad temper - but it was his dad that taught him music at first - both how to compose - and also how to play the viola and piano. Later, at the age of 22 he had the great Haydn as a teacher for a while - but apparently they didn’t get on very well. Nevertheless Haydn took Beethoven to Vienna (a European powerhouse of musical artwork) - which is where, at his first public performance at the age of 25, he started to make an impression as a virtuoso pianist. Up until the age of 31 Beethoven applied many of the composing methods taught him by Haydn. After then (which was in 1801) he started to develop his own style. The first of his “own style” compositions is the famous Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor called “Quasi una fantasia” (Italian for: “Like a fantasy”). This particular piece was dedicated to a 17 year old girl called Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, whom Beethoven was madly in love with at the time. (Incidentally - It was 32 years later that a German poet called Ludwig Rellstab wrote that the music was like “moonlight shining on a lake”. Ever since then it’s been known as the “Moonlight Sonata”.) Turn up your computer’s volume and click on the play button below to listen to it whilst reading the rest of this posting. (Go on - press it, don’t worry - there’s nothing to download!)

What you are listening to is the first of three “movements” in this sonata. It’s probably the most well-known of the three and it has a very powerful and haunting melody which was at first disturbing to audiences. Many scholars of Beethoven have suggested that he lost his lover at the time of this sonata - and that the music of the first two movements represents his sadness at this loss.

Almost exactly a year after publishing the “Moonlight Sonata” Beethoven, at the age of 32, discovered that he was going progressively deaf. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this was due to his habit of pouring cold water over his head whilst he was composing and not drying his massive head of hair. His hearing problems didn’t seem to affect his composing - but it certainly affected his ability to perform. 11 years later at the age of 43 he was completely deaf. He had become increasingly tormented by his deafness and had developed a very aggressive and argumentative character. He made his last public performance as a pianist at age 44 - but continued to compose in Vienna. Beethoven’s work during this period leading up to his death became more abstract and experimental - and is often described as odd.

In 1827, at the age of 57, Ludwig Van Beethoven died. Despite the abstractness of his “late period” music - which was not compatible with the Viennese bourgeois taste which tended to favour the easy-listening Italian opera style - he was regarded by most as an important public figure and composer ahead of his time. It is said that around 10,000 people attended his funeral. Afterwards, a passionate love letter was found in his desk. That letter become known as the ‘Immortal Beloved’ letter - and was the source of much mystery and detective work for many years. Many scholars now agree that it was written in 1812 (a year before he became totally deaf) to a lady called Antonie Brentano - who was already married and was 10 years younger then him.

There begins in my head the development in every direction … the fundamental idea never deserts me - it rises before me - grows, I see and hear the picture in all its extent and dimensions stand before my mind like a cast …
Ludwig Van Beethoven

Posted by jag at 01:42 PM | Comments (10)
December 20, 2003

Yesterday’s lunchtime trip into Chinatown reminded me of one of my favourite short-walk routes in Central London. It’s the walk from Green Park tube station to Chinatown. When you surface at street level coming out of Green Park station, take the Piccadilly North Side exit - and you will find yourself on the famous road called Piccadilly, practically right opposite the Ritz. Turn left and walk casually down towards Piccadilly Circus - past expensive car showrooms on the left - and famous name shops and tailors on the right - e.g. Fortnum & Masons etc. Soak yourself in the glamour of it all. Don’t forget to absorb the splendour whilst browsing the shops inside the Burlington Arcade which will be on your left as you walk by - and also spend a few minutes inside the courtyard of the magnificent Royal Academy of Arts - wondering how on earth such a place could exist right here? As you get closer to Piccadilly Circus itself you cannot help but notice the queuing cars and Routemaster style buses at the traffic junction. Straight ahead of you is the statue of Eros - surrounded in Evening Standard advertising hoarding - and as you approach the junction - veering to your left as you cross the road along with hundreds of others - be prepared to be dazzled by bright lights and neon adverts high up on a curved building. Follow the crowds round that curve into Shaftesbury Avenue - sticking to the left hand side. As you walk further down the avenue for about 300 metres - keep looking left into the side streets - for you will see what’s left of the seedier sides of Soho - strip clubs, peep-shows, theatres and dive bars. When you get to Wardour Street - cross Shaftesbury Avenue into the right-hand branch of Wardour Street - and enter Chinatown towards Leicester Square.

Piccadilly - black cabs, London buses and, of course, white-van man in front.

The above walk only takes 10 minutes or so - but is a great way to absorb some of the excitement of Central London. So - if anybody asks you to meet them at Leicester Square - go a bit earlier - go to Green Park instead - and walk it to Leicester Square from there.

Posted by jag at 04:42 PM | Comments (2)
December 19, 2003
Dim Sum

For those who don’t know already - I work in Hammersmith - which is a bustling neighbourhood of West London just outside of what is conventionally known as “Central London”. And because of this - Hammersmith is devoid of tourists. Also because of this - as well as it’s proximity to the major routes into Central London from Heathrow Airport - over the last 20 years or so it’s become a haven for a variety of global businesses requiring a location for a corporate UK or European HQ. Mobile phone giants, Loreal, Disney, Coca-Cola, Universal Pictures, AOL Time Warner to name but a few are all located here. Less than 1 kilometre away to the East is the outer edge of Kensington and Chelsea - with all the high-class, sophisticated living and lifestyle that comes with it. To the West is the affluent suburb of Chiswick. To the South and across the river past the famous St.Paul’s school (UK’s top performing school) is the affluent suburb of Barnes leading to Kew and Richmond. To the North is the nation of Shepherds Bush surrounding a sprawling island that defines the worldwide broadcasting headquarters of the BBC. Hammersmith itself is home to council estates, fringe theatres, multitudes of multi-ethnic restaurants, office blocks, shopping malls, car parks and thousands of ordinary Londoners.

Hammersmith is noisy, gritty, and unpretentiously REAL London.

One particularly good feature of Hammersmith is the fact that the Piccadilly Line Underground runs through it. This provides ample opportunity to hit the West End of Central London within a maximum of 15 minutes: Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Green Park, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and so on. And it is this feature that makes it so possible to spontaneously get a few friends from the office together for a lunch-time Dim Sum excursion into London’s ancient Chinatown.

London’s Chinatown. Street-names translated into Cantonese.

As I have grown a little older since my freshly-post-student days - Central London as a hangout for socialising has become a real chore. I just don’t go there any more if I can help it. But, amongst a small number of other places in the West End, Chinatown is exempted - it’s one of my absolute favourite districts in Central London - and I jumped at the the idea of joining a crew of colleagues for Dim Sum at our favourite New World restaurant. 15 minutes on the tube from Hammersmith to Leicester Square and we were there. It was noon - and we were hungry. Some time later we were fulfilled and satisfied - and ready to go back to work. An extended lunch break to mark the passing of another quarter - as well as the Christmas holiday season: thoroughly enjoyed.

The New World restaurant - the best place in town for Dim Sum

If you haven’t experienced Dim Sum before - but you would like to - then some advice:

  • Plan to go early: i.e. be there no later than 12:00 - most places will be very busy by 12:30 - The New World has lots of tables though.
  • Don’t go if your group is less than 5 people - as any less and it’s just not as fun - and you don’t get to sample much without spending a lot.
  • For a group of around 8 and above - budget for around £7 per head. This is extremely good value for a very fullfilling brunch!
  • Best to have someone Chinese (Cantonese speaker) in your group if possible the first couple of times - as the waiters/waitresses can be quite assertive and you may end up agreeing to take dishes that you won’t like!
  • If you pick up the teapot to pour yourself some tea - top up everybody else’s first - before your own. Dim Sum is all about respectful socialising. (Click here and here for more info about Dim Sum dishes.)
  • If you are a sociable lot - you will find that time as flown by - and don’t be surprised if you have spent three hours there.
  • If you are at the New World - then settle up in cash - the waiter will bring back any change - which you can then use to form a tip to leave on table.
  • You will be stuffed afterwards and probably won’t be able to eat anything for the rest of the day - if you don’t have to go to work - then why not spend the rest of afternoon in pub? There is a great Irish pub on the Wardour Street side of Chinatown called Waxy O’Connors - which in the early afternoon is warm, cosy, not too noisy and surprisingly uncrowded.

Some more snaps taken in Chinatown as we left the restaurant:

Food hanging in window. Telephone booth pagodas.

Shaftsbury Avenue perspective. London’s landmark Telecom Tower in distance.

Posted by jag at 08:48 PM | Comments (4)
December 18, 2003

I have discovered somebody stealing my bandwidth.

Yes - someone recently visited these pages - maybe arrived here from Google - and liked one of the pictures in my blog so much that he decided to steal it. Hey - I have no problem with that because I “stole” the picture in the first place too. But since this blog forms a work of “art” - then I don’t feel guilty about that. At least I had the decency of copying the picture to my own webserver.

Anyway - some guy called Jared - who appears to be an overseas student studying at London School of Economics on some typical-for-LSE loony-left-style undergraduate psychology course decided that instead of copying the picture onto his own webserver - he decides to simply “refer” to the picture so that it is served up by MY webserver - which means every page impression on HIS blog uses MY bandwidth. That’s not respectful.

Here is Jared - as featured in his MSN photo album:

Jared: Overseas student who is guilty of disrespectfully stealing my bandwidth!

So I have taken revenge - and I am feeling cool now. Check out Jared’s page to see what I’ve done.

I wonder how long it takes him to notice and act.

Anyway - I had a browse around his blog whilst I was there. Don’t you think he’s a bit cocky?


Just in case Jared corrects the problem - thereby leaving you wondering what I did in retribution - below is a copy of the image that he was “referring” to on my webserver instead of copying to onto his own webserver. The image is from a posting I made months ago:

The picture that Jared “stole” my bandwidth for.

And here is the picture I replaced it with as it appeared on his own web page:

This is the image I replaced it with.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Posted by jag at 06:41 PM | Comments (19)
December 15, 2003
A Suitable Book

Prompted by a posting by Arabian Born Confused Desi on fictional treatments of Indian kulchure - I am finally coercing myself to announce that I completed Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy very recently. And my journey’s to work and back have been feeling a little empty since then. (And so is my bag!) Click here to recall when I first started reading this.

Before and after.

It’s such a long book - I’m not sure how the paperback edition that I’ve had for the last four months has held together. Four months and 1474 pages later the bus and tube journey to and from work are now back to being soulless and unforgiving. Fellow commuters have become irksome, and I have become pedantic and impatient once more. Especially what with it being almost pitch dark both on the way into work as well as the way back home. It all just adds to the feeling of hopelessness. The latter parts of the book brought tears to my eyes - but the story carried itself along throughout on a wave of emotion: joy, nostalgia, sympathy, elation and profound sadness. The emotions of situations and characters that became a part of me. And now it is done. I’m honestly not sure whether my expectations with regard to reading fiction have been changed - forver perhaps?

Being Indian, I felt that there were an almost infinite number of situations in the narrative that made me wonder how a Western readership could comprehend it - but these thoughts paled into insignificance when it became obvious that many of the characters and the way that their stories panned out were almost identical in behaviour and manner to those experienced in my own life amongst my circle of families and friends. Albeit a generation later (the story is set in 1951 post-independence India) the traits and mannerism are all still very much alive and well today!

The mental image of Mrs.Rupa Mehra will be etched in my mind for a very long time. I feel that she is the backbone of the story - and I will miss her as much as I do the nuances of my own mother. For she is almost certainly every Indian person’s mother.

There is a particular passage towards the end of the story that had me shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer brilliance of Vikram Seth in characterising the relationship between Indian mother and her own father - but in my own mind I feel that it could equally characterise the relationship between Indian mother and son too. In the following passage Seth describes Mrs.Rupa Mehra’s confrontation with her father when requesting that his house be used as the venue for the wedding of her daughter (his grand-daughter):

He had never had any truck with incompetence or insubordination. He now bluntly refused to countenance, let alone assist, the marriage of a grand-daughter in which he had not been consulted from the beginning. He told Mrs.Rupa Mehra that his house was not a hotel or a dharamshala, and that she would have to look elsewhere.

‘And that is that,’ he added.

Mrs.Rupa Mehra threatened to kill herself.

‘Yes, yes, do so,” said her father impatiently. He knew that she loved life too much, especially when she could be justifiably miserable.

‘And I will never see you again,’ she added. ‘Never in all my life. Say goodbye to me,’ she sobbed, ‘for this is the last time you will see your daughter.’ With that she flung herself weeping into his arms.

(He) staggered back and nearly dropped his stick. Carried away by her emotion and by the greater realism of this threat, he too started sobbing violently, and pounded his stick on the floor to give vent to his feelings. Very soon it was all settled.

If you are Indian in your heart - then you MUST read this book. If you are not Indian - then (as The Times said) “Make time for it - it will keep you company for the rest of your life”.

I simply hope that they NEVER turn this story into a film.

Posted by jag at 10:01 PM | Comments (17)
December 13, 2003
Deja Vu Revisited

Finally - after most of the reality around me happens to have watched it already - I’m amazed by how the time since it being first released to an eagerly expectant masses until I watched it today, has not involved me being “spoiled” with all the gory details already.

So, this being a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, I slotted the rental DVD into the player - sat down at the end of the sofa that is the optimum point for glorious surround sound immersion - and absorbed myself into the world of The Matrix Reloaded.

And pleasantly surprised coming out at the end of it I was. If not a little frustrated. At the sudden “to be concluded” that is. Well, at least it was “concluded” rather than “continued”. Overtly biblical as many others have reported it? Nah! Too Shakesperian an overtone? Nah! Not as involving a plot as the last one? Nah! Morpheus taking himself too seriously? Nah - come’on people: if you analyse it too much then you are guilty of taking it too seriously. This film is simply, ever-so-implausibly fantastic-ingally, Hollywoodingly Sci-Fi:

  • Neo really does think he’s superman! Even his “flight controller” says so in the film.
  • In the last film, it was the human experience of “deja-vu” that was explained away as the matrix being reloaded, this time it’s the heavenly experience of biting into chocolate dessert cake that is entirely due to a matrix program designed to make people orgasm (cause and effect)
  • The last time I saw cars take-off at high speed into the air like that was in The A-Team and the Dukes of Hazzard! Give me more!
  • The scene in which the agent is standing on the bridge surveying the freeway just before the trucks collide is a 21st century version of the famous similar scene in the first Dirty Harry film - where Clint is angry and he’s out to hunt down the murderer.
  • And of course, all that Kung Fu and martial fighting artwork - better than all the best Bruce Lee I’ve ever seen!
  • The freeway car chase scene - when some car crashes into a row of barrels full of water at an exit junction - haven’t we seen that before? Why yes, of course we have: Speed - starring none other than Keanu Reeves himself! (You remember: the film in which the bus can’t go below 50mph or else it’ll blow up.) Only this time it was far better! (Or was I experiencing deja vu?)
  • Some agent jumps on the bonnet (hood) of the car that Trinity is driving: she takes a few shots at him - but he kind of sways around in a blur that looks similar (but much better) than the times in Terminator 2 that the liquid metal terminator gets hit in the head with a shotgun.
  • In fact - there are lots of Terminator 2 type effects in this film! I don’t need to explain them here - only to say that they are much better!
  • The kung fu fight between Neo and the oriental-looking chappy in a smart white top who wants to check out if he is “the one” - that fight was like a superbly coreographed dance. Even better than those in Westside Story!
  • The way in which the white-faced dreadlocked agent gets back into his car as it whooshes right through him - in exactly the same way that Patrick Swayze jumps onto passing underground (subway) trains in the film Ghost - but done with much better whoosh. Excellent!
  • The humans living in a massive cave deep underground in that place known as Zion: that place was like a mixture of the same human colonies in the Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Total Recall! Only rendered far more superior.
  • The thoroughly public-school accent in the English of the white-dreadlocked agents (“We are most aggravated”) - reminiscent of the shaken-but-not-stirred heroes of the agents in James Bond films - and in this film: an excellent touch of class endowed on villians. Simply brilliant!

This film is great because it’s a melting pot of all these other great Hollywood films: Dirty Harry, Bruce Lee, Ghost, Total Recall, Planet of the Apes, Terminator 2, Speed, Superman, Westside Story, James Bond - and probably more that I’m sure I would discover if I watched it again. An audio/visual/anamorphic-widescreen/surround-sound juxtaposition of 40 years worth of previously enjoyable Hollywood classics. An experience where the whole is much greater than the sum of all its constituent parts. I am surprised at what all the fuss was about.

Posted by jag at 03:39 PM | Comments (4)
December 08, 2003
The FUME enigma

Some time ago I wrote somewhat quixotically about wanting to meet FUME. For those who don’t spend enough time gazing aimlessly out of the train or bus window on the way to work in the morning FUME is one of West London’s most prolific “writers”. For those with less romantic notions on life - “writer” = “tagger” - and for those somewhere left-of-centre “writer” = “graffiti-artist”.

It certainly seems that his roots are in West London - although his “art” can be found all over the capital - including, rather bizarrely, several storeys up on the derelict concrete building in the middle of the roundabout at the South end of Westminster Bridge. (I wonder if that building is still there?) I can’t believe how excited I got when I spotted that a few months ago when on the way to a theatre on the South Bank - much to the bewilderment of the colleagues I was with. Much to my own too I suppose - albeit deferred.

Fume’s art as far afield as Amsterdam - after all: just another suburb of London

Little did I know that the very act of writing about him would bring me “closer” to understanding the enigma that is FUME - or possibly closer to the spirits in his kindred. It’s what Google is doing to society. For no sooner than several weeks after I posted the article - that journal entry had risen to the top of the search index and the comments-box provides a home for a tantalising trail of clues. It seems that I’m not the only one “searching” for FUME. For FUME (and others like him) seem to epitomise The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity and Identity in London and New York - a book which provides a fascinating academic exposition into the things that fuel this movement. Novelist Nicholas Royle also pays tribute to FUME in a book review at Guardian Unlimited.

I finish with a quote from a comment on the original posting left by “cherry-lips” (who wants him in her panties). I’m sort of suspicious about the integrity of the identity of some of the comments - but this seems to convey a common undertone:

FUME is an energy,a part of london city it’s people wont forget.FUME is history and the future and in years to come his name will still be mentioned and seen in london fume and his gang.keep london are it’s energy. (sic)

Enough said for now.

And if they send in the special police
To deliver us from liberty and keep us from peace

From a song called The Beaten Generation by The The on the album Mind Bomb


Just so that my politics are clear on this (and this is the closest I’ll probably ever get to being overtly “political” in this journal): If the writing’s on my own wall - then I’m angered: for I see this as an illegal invasion of my personal brand. Likewise for illegal invasions on any other person’s or institution’s brand. If, however, the writing is on the walls of dreary municipal buildings that face nothing other than the passing train - AND it’s obviously written with a love for the art that is typical of that found in less subversive forms of popular art - then, although I acknowledge that it’s illegal - I have to profess that I feel that it shouldn’t be hurting anybody. No amount of persuasion can convince me to accept that it is “eysore”, or somehow making people feel “unsafe”. I think that latter is an emotion that might be popularly accepted, but nevertheless a consequence of the sort of sentiment that brings us dangerously close to the “nanny state” that we seemingly and blindingly head towards. And, in my view, what is totally unacceptable is for the cost of riddance of such self-inflicted sensibilities of “unsafeness” and “eysore” to be borne by the commuting public who suffer so much already at the hands of the decaying public transport system that characterises the railway. The dilemma that I have yet to resolve in my own mind is this though: legitimise it - and you destroy the very existence of the love and passion that creates it in the first place. Legitimise it - and you simply get another channel to market for the Goldsmith College types privileged to have studied the academic and more abstract side of the things that conventionally define “art”. Legitimise it - and you destroy the very essence of the things that drive and fuel the energy of people like FUME. Even turning a blind eye would destroy the movement - as the challenge would be gone. Maintaining the status quo, however, leaves us exactly where we are at today - the illegal invasions of personal and institutional brands - and the overspill of the crap that you see in the work of people like TOX.03 - indiscriminately “bombing” the inside of Circle Line trains with a tag that leaves little room for aesthetic appreciation. With these things there is no win-win. But history has shown that in “art” there is no such thing as win-win. The dogs will still keep pissing on the fences of the front gardens of the nation’s good citizens. The advertising agencies will still continue to convince us “because you’re worth it” on the giant billboards gracing the sides of traffic hotspots on London’s arterial road-routes - and the sight of the blue and red glow of the London Underground roundel in the distance will continue to reassure many of us all that we are not too far from a safe tube journey home.

One man’s art provides another man’s reason to disagree.

Posted by jag at 08:04 AM | Comments (144)
December 05, 2003
Parties and tears

The party season’s in full swing. Christmas is coming and as you have probably guessed, for me and a few of my friends and colleagues at least, Hammersmith will be no more. I have produced a 2.5 minute tribute pop video (with a “feelgood” song by Texas as the audio dub - the same one that was used as the theme tune for the film Bend it Like Beckham)

Because I don’t have a video streaming facility, if you want to watch the video you will have to go to the dowload page and do a right-click and “save target as” on the video file - which is around 11 megabytes in size - so it will take a few minutes to download if you have cable or ADSL broadband. If you are on dialup then there is a much poor-quality, smaller version of the video that can be downloaded at 4 megabytes - but you will not get the full experience as the director intended from this! (Thanks to Sat for reminding me that there are still people with Dialup out there - and also for prompting me to use DIVX/MPEG4)

(For the best immersive effect of feel-good and sadness - make sure your volume is turned up loud.)

Hammersmith Street Art

The pop video stars all sorts of people: folks in the office and strangers in the street, but mostly featuring the sights in and around our office in Hammersmith. Some parts of the video are in “rush” style - and if you’re observant - you will spot the following things:

  • Route79 bus
  • The long walkway interchange tunnel between the Jubilee Line and the Piccadilly Line platforms at Green Park tube station
  • Some guy nodding off over his suitcase as he travels to Heathrow on the Piccadily Line
  • Walking through the ticket barrier at Hammersmith tube
  • Getting the lift to the 3rd floor at Hammersmith - the happening floor
  • Coca-Cola HQ
  • Bloke who sells the Evening Standard outside the Broadway Shopping Centre entrance
  • Crowds crossing the road on the Broadway
  • Hammersmith Bridge over the Thames
  • The strange-looking building known as “The Ark”
  • The Carling Apollo (formerly known as the famous Hammersmith Odeon)
  • The sign on the Apollo showing that the comedy show “Bottom Live” is on show - for those of you who know about the sitcom - did you know it was set in Hammersmith?
  • The Hammersmith & City Line station entrance
  • Folks from the office dancing the night away at the Fabric (top London) nightclub venue the other night - where one of my colleagues was the DJ

And finally - for those of you wondering why all the tearful goodbyes - a very big clue can be found in the dying seconds of the pop video. I’m too embarassed to spell it out here.

Oh - and I’ll probably not be updating my Views from Broadway pages any more. But Route 79 will survive - because it’s still my bus journey home - and will probably always be - no matter where work takes me …

Somebody told me it was over
Nobody told me where it began

From Insane By Texas

Posted by jag at 11:56 PM | Comments (12)
December 03, 2003
Westside stories

Hammersmith will be missed.

Shiny revolving doors ejecting me out onto the Broadway. Crowds of people crossing the road. Scary-looking short, plump man with big neck, but an even bigger heart, selling the Evening Standard. Chap with long beard, woolly hat and parker jacket who shuffles around the Coca-Cola building all day looking for freshly discarded cigarette ends. Witty blokes behind the counter at Frank’s Italian Deli. Audacious white kitten which occasionally likes to join us for cheap Thai lunch at the Laurie Arms Irish pub on Shepherds Bush Road. Landlady at same pub who knows that we like our Diet Coke from the bottle - not from the tap. Bar 38 - the place where many joys and grievances were heard and shared over a beer or two in the evenings. A universe of sandwiches to choose from at lunchtimes; Pret, Marks, Subway, Tesco, including shady-looking holes in walls that serve up all-day breakfast baps to bus and cab drivers. Shopping centre security personnel dressed like secret service agents - walking around in twos, with radios on belts and bluetooth headsets. Cars, vans and buses speeding unnecessarily around the broadway. Being constantly asked by A-Z-clutching lost-persons for directions to the Lyric, Apollo, Magistrates Court, Disney or Job Centre. Big metal on final approach to Heathrow - following the track of the flyover carrying roadbound visitors in the opposite direction into Central London past strange-looking office building opposite the Novotel. A cute bridge over a sleepy river. The grim-looking multi-story car park behind the King’s Mall shopping centre with a spooky footbridge crossing high above the Piccadilly and District Lines - trains rattling loudly below. The cafe-style square outside Smollensky’s in the summer.

All these things will be missed.

And that’s just memories afforded to things within walking distance of the place where I have spent most of my waking life in the last three years.

A little further afield are other things that will be missed just as much: The famous Lucozade sign that greets foriegn visitors to London with proud remedy for lost energy. The lure of everything “Kings Road” in Chelsea - especially Made in Italy. The £50 a night function room with exotic, high-art style nude paintings at the Grove restuarant on Hammersmith Grove. The Queens Head pub on Brook Green - venue for many a leaving drinks celebration. Shepherds Bush Market. Ladbroke Grove. Graffiti by Fume - the crown king of the Hammersmith & City line. Too many things to sensibly list here.

Every walk that I take down to the tube station at the end of the day is now deliberately taken the long way around. Every walk to the sandwich shops at lunhctimes - now taken with a lesser sense of purpose. Every walk now a melancholy one. And every gaze across the road whilst waiting at the crossing - now in desperate search of an expression or emotion on the faces of those waiting on the other side.

The late afternoon crescents of the moon in the darkening blue sky speak of a different sort of significance.

For soon this will all be gone.

Or rather - it will all still be here;

I’ll just not be a part of its fabric any more.

And part of the journey home will never be the same again.

Hammersmith will be missed.

Posted by jag at 07:36 AM | Comments (7)

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