The event is happening on the 27th April, at Selfridges, you get a copy of the print sent to you for participating. Send an email to beconsumed at selfridges.co.uk to register.
Update: I've registered...
The event is happening on the 27th April, at Selfridges, you get a copy of the print sent to you for participating. Send an email to beconsumed at selfridges.co.uk to register.
Update: I've registered...
I used to live in Befast and went back to visit my parents last weekend, we discussed a range of things and one of these was the sad notice of the final new ship to be built at Harland & Wolff, where the Titanic was built. There is a BBCi community forum about H&W.
The two gantry cranes, known as Samson and Goliath locally, are now redundant. They were commissioned as part of a massive shipyard expansion in the late 60s and can lift 840 odd tons each. My Dad deflection tested them to 1000 tons and the gantry dipped 11.5 inches, he also built the huge dry dock for oil tankers, one of the biggest in the world at the time, capable of 1,000,000 tonnes.
The shipyard expansion was one of the measures taken to maintain some semblence of order in Belfast, if the yard had closed and 10,000 unionists had lost their jobs, then chaos would have descended on early 70s Belfast. H&W has declined from a peak of over 30,000 workers to an SME of 135 largely engineers, sad but slow and gradual.
The land around H&W will be sold for apartments and a science park, the yard will continue to refit and repair ships, but there is no need for two cranes that can lift 800 odd tonnes. If they are scrapped the Belfast skyline will change forever, you can see them from all over Belfast, they are 350 foot hight and yellow, so they stand in quite a striking manner. Either taking them down or keeping them repainted will cost a fortune, maybe they'll be protected just as the BT tower in London has been.
A few weeks ago , I wrote about losing my penknife in response to an article from boing-boing about what you have in your pockets. Well this week I've been trying to decide on what to buy to replace it, I'm still not sure (leatherman juice are expensive, the others too big, don't want a plastic-sided swiss army knife...) Metal things gain personality, plastic things feel disposable.
Today I found a cool exhibition called "Pockets" covering all sorts of things that people carried from 17th century pipes to the possessions of dead people, like Elvis, Kurt Cobain and Virginia Woolf. There is also a fashion industry perspective on pockets from Wayne Hemmingway. It is on in London at 51 Poland St, from 11am to 7pm, except Sunday (5pm) until the 4th of April. I think it sounds really quite interesting.
The New Media Reader is a new book from MIT Press, it covers all the early research and writing that has helped define the new media world in which we live. Its coverage runs right up until 1994 with the Tim Berners-Lee World Wide Web article. There is a website for the book, which lists the contents of the 50 odd chapters of the 800 plus page book. It also comes with a CD showing classic programs and video of original demos. It looks fantastic, my copy is on order. The contents page is literally a whos who of computing and internet. Authors range from Alan Kay and Nicholas Negroponte to Ted Nelson and Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart and Scott McCloud.
I've added a currently reading section to this website, partly to encourage me to get on with the pile of books at home and also to note the commonalities in what I'm reading with what others are reading and the amazon clickthroughs too, of course.
I recently read Under the Skin which is a fascinating book. It is about Isserley who picks up male hitch-hikers in the North of Scotland. It starts oddly and then heads off into realms unfamiliar for many people given its general fiction listing. Well written, Faber gradually reveals details of the plot, keeping enough in reserve for a satisfying ending. Difficult to say more without blowing the plot, but it is one of the best real science fiction books I've read in a while, not a schlock horror and not a long winded space opera, good stuff.
After writing on social spaces, it feels a bit like I'm catching up on a large body of previous work, not surprisingly I guess. iWire indirectly pointed me to Putnam's thesis, Bowling Alone which I should have picked up a few days ago. I guess that I'm also slightly reiterating some of the arguments from No Logo, particularly the No Space chapter.
There is a connection to social software projects, like UpMyStreet etc, but my focus at the minute is really the cultural differences, rather than how to recreate these environments online. Where this might overlap a bit is the small but sure rise of wifi enabled cafes and pubs, especially if they realise that wifi should be free rather than £5 a session.
Still not the same as what I want, entry level is too high and it is slightly artificial, but if the local estabalishment provides useful community information resources then it might be interesting, see the MeshAP wireless pub. Imagine this as a local community resource, rather than a geek haven, accessible via the phone in your pocket for free.
A short list of things I've either found or been sent.
dear raed a guy blogging under an assumed name from Baghdad. Interesting reading, giving a real feeling for what it is like living in Baghdad right now, without Iraqi censorship.
Tim Collins, who is a Colonel in the British Army gives a powerful speech to his men prior to conflict starting. He actually went to my old school, back in Belfast so will have grown up with experience of people being killed and blown up, virtually every week. So his experience on what conflict is like probably partly influenced him. He shows the reasons to fight, but makes it clear that this is not a revenge, they must be magnanimous to their defeated enemy. I may not agree with the war, but it is good to hear it being fought by people like this. Whilst writing this, Bush was giving a speech in Tampa, FL, to the US army the difference was quite stark.
Article in the Guardian about the BBC being the warblog for the country. Interestingly written before the war started, but published in Monday's Media Guardian. The BBC has actually started a BBC journalists war blog. Here is a warspeak jargon listing from the Guardian too.
al jezarra, oops al jazeera for a different view on the war, they pool the same new resources with the BBC, so often show items the BBC self censor.
650 Iraqi soldiers and 14 civilians die, cruise missiles hit wrong target and Iraqis attack American armoured columns and die trying. I hope that this is not the start of carnage.
Using Google to research the third place, see earlier article, I found this essay by Chris Mooney. It discusses shops where you feel good shopping there and then extends into an analysis of the "third place" ideas, noting their claims for the "good-old-days". Sort of harking back to Cheers, where everyone knows your name.
Everyone has these good shopping experiences from their life, we recently discovered a new local hardware store, where all the staff actually know what they are talking about, and when stuff is due, or are able to ask someone for you. A world away from the experience you get at B&Q. So they still exist even if I'm not going to hang out in my local hardware store all day. Good friendly non-anonymous service is I suppose the basis of this sense. Also ownership of problems is an important aspect of these kinds of places, they do care about you and will call you back etc.
A couple of books, the first is the Ray Oldenburg original book, now in its third edition, The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee.... The second is a more recent book with a series of essays showing that the third place can be other than a cafe, Celebrating the Third Place.
We used to live in villages, now we live in cities, yet this change has happened over a relatively short period of time. We lack sufficient social spaces to interact with the people we live near. Dan and I discussed this a bit earlier and he reminded me of the third place ideas of the early 90s. I suppose French cafes act as that third place, whereas our pubs don't quite manage it in the main. They are too keen on you having a drink on your table, and coffee shops don't really encourage lingering.
Bits of London work, though they tend to be well established and affluent, like Kensington, but even delis have a hard time surviving there, serveral have closed in recent years. Soho does seem to work mind you, but it is not cheap to live in. Another good example of a community that seems to function is Noe Valley, in San Francisco. Nice local shops and restaurants all in walking distance. Good sense of community feeling and some excellent sushi.
Though as an aside, maybe money protects these neighbourhoods, just like the green belt protects England's small villages. Limited development keeps the prices high, by recommending in-fill and redevelopment only. Admittedly the green spaces do need protecting, but sometimes the people advocating the "green space" are really doing it to ensure the stability of their house price.
Guardian piece on sustainable communities, espousing some of what I've been saying. Communities are not about the buildings, they are about social spaces.
In the UK, we don't really have a word for this kind of place, we default to postcode to clarify. In Spain they have "barrio", in Paris, they have "quartier". We just don't have a word other than village.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the difference between French and UK markets. François from Padawan commented that even Parisian life has a focus around the local market, due to the quality, he then commented on the absence of something like the English pub.
This set me thinking, perhaps it is the pub and its associated 1914 licensing laws that have had an impact on British life. Here is an interesting analysis in Hansard from 1997. Perhaps the licensing of pubs early last century meant that the social fabric of the UK was fragmented in a way that is not true in France or Italy.
In France the cafe-bar is a central feature of daily life, it is the place to get a coffee, buy some cigarettes or a newspaper. Later in the day it becomes somewhere to get lunch or a quick drink, then in the evening it becomes a bar. It can also act as a social forum for other organizations, like football teams, betting, restaurant etc. For the British pub there are many fewer opportunities to fill this complete role. Many try with early opening and coffee or food for sale, but the culture for the pub is a place for drinking with food sometimes available. This focus on alcohol leads to the renowned British drinking culture, racing to the 11pm kickout, rather than the more relaxed Spanish or French evening out, that often lasts longer into the night.
This focus on the sale of alcohol has meant the creation of other venues for the sale of other products, like the corner shop and the news agent. People are less likely to frequent the pub during the daytime, so there is less passing trade for other shops, as there is not one central venue to discuss the market or have a coffee. There are cafes and other shops, but they tend to serve a single function, so don't act as a focus, despite the post office's advertising.
Some British pubs are changing towards this model, though this is partly in reaction to the influx of chain coffee bars. These chain coffee stores are just not widespread in French society. Again the venue is a single function shop, Starbucks is not going to become the social focus for a neighbourhood. The coffee bar is a good example of another trend, the widespread franchise, in France cafes and many shops are locally owned and often sell locally produced produce, in the UK we have countless branded stores, every High Street has the same shops, with the odd independent pub and the restaurants providing light relief. Some uniformity is helpful, but the single function commented on above makes them very open for franchising. These franchises hinder the development of the social places noted above, they offer a uniform view of the world and resist variation. So the local influences are lost or do not manage to get hold of the venue, they are not places where people dwell.
I'm not intending this to be a heavily anti-capitalist rant, far from it, I'd like to see vibrant local communities where there is more of a shared local feeling and less of a transitory place to sleep feeling. It does exist in some places in London, but not that many, maybe the scale of London is wrong, but then why does it work in Paris and other cities.
I guess the British model is to have sharp edges on what each venue can do, eg only buy a drink in a licensed cafe if you are having a main meal. Whereas the French model is looser, there is more variety within each cafe-bar. I'm sure that there are negatives with this approach too, but I feel very at home with that style of place.
I'm not a social historian and I'm sure that there are leaps of reasoning in the above, but it feels like there is something here. I also know that there are many exceptions to what I have said, but then that is always true with generalizations and I'm also sure that this analysis is not completely novel. However I'd appreciate your comments.
Spent the weekend marching, decorating and gardening in that order, plus about 20 minutes deciding if it was worth having a barbeque. Sadly not, but hopefully soon, as it is already Spring. First really warm sunshine of the year in London, even the earth has started to warm up, we have started the annual hostilities in the garden, cutting edges to beds and setting forth the seeds from their packets into their trays. Squirrels are out and about around us and our cats decided to spend the day sunning themselves. Nice day, even with the paint fumes.
More sunny pictures, this time from Chile are here, from our trip there about a year or so ago. I'll write more about them to give them some context later in the week.
I climb at Mile End climbing wall, one of the regulars there, a guy I know called David Burckett St. Laurent is attempting to walk to the North Pole to raise money for Children Nationwide. Dabs have sponsored them and provided wireless and video equipment. David is a really nice guy and if he suceeds will be the youngest person to reach the pole.
Gaping Void, cartoons drawn on the back of business cards. New Yorker, Hugh Macleod, draws these as a reaction to life in the city. fun stuff, kind of not Sex and the City
Reminds me a bit of the Pink slip parties from 2001. At one of these events the bar collected old business cards and stapled them to the wall, I think they collected thousands, certainly I've got at least 4 or 5.
The Center for Democracy & Technology ran a six month study on spam. The key findings are that if you place your email address in a user@domain format then you will get spam however if you use a user at domain dot com format then you will get relatively little spam. Make sure that you don't place your email address in public forums in the user@domain format and avoid posting to usenet. However high traffic portal sites are the most common places to get your email address taken, so the last tip is to use a throwaway email address for public forums.
Tonight the bombing will most likely start, as Dan pointed out, a couple of weeks ago, it is not as if they haven't been bombing already. Tonight again the US and UK dropped bombs on surface to surface missile systems in defence of the "no-fly" zone. 20 million pounds in one year alone 98-99 have been dropped on Iraq already. However they claim that this is not the start of the war and it will not begin until 1 am, this is just random bombing.
I'll be at the march on Saturday, but I'm not sure if it'll be anywhere near as many people as last month. Hopefully it'll all be over quickly and not too many people will die in the fighting.
So, Bush has decided to go to war, Iraqis will die regardless of this decision, whether at Saddam Hussein's hands or by US and UK bombs. I just cannot see how this is meant to improve the world situation, how will this create peace in the world. I can see that this is not about Iraqi oil, as there is a small amount of it, that is available now, and it will cost a lot to double capacity. It is not about the honour of the UN, as they are being ignored, so is it about the desire of the last superpower to declare the world order in to two sides for simplicity and American commercial interests ?
Those of us happy to be in old europe can see that the world is more complex than that. George Bush must understand this too. Otherwise who is next, to militarily overthrow every regime the US disagrees with will result in countless wars on most continents in the world, not a prospect many will relish.
Some links if you want to further your protest: Our World Our Say where you can donate money for press advertising. Protests on Wednesday, or more likely Thursday, at 6pm GMT in Parliment Sq on the Stop the War website.
Finally wide coverage from the BBC on a range of issues
Oh, Happy St Patrick's Day
I used to live in Belfast and there the sun is such a fleeting visitor that I got used to the greyness of the light. In London the sun arrives starting around now, certainly April and it a definite presence until maybe September. So now I am increasingly noticing the lift in my mood as soon as the sun returns, I'm not claiming SAD, but I definitely feel a lot better when the sun comes back. On another bright note, takeoneonion is one month public today.
A few years ago in the UK every bookstore sold 60p books, which were usually interesting excerpts of longer novels and cookery books. We have maybe 20 to 30 of them in various rooms in the house, I noticed them tidying up today. Now you can't buy them anywhere, maybe they got too expensive to make, or the public got bored of them. On a related note, you can get copyright free books from Project Gutenberg amongst others.
Feedster is a fairly new service that lets one search the RSS feeds that websites like mine offer as a subscription service. It is sort of like a search engine, but one that only searches current information, of the last week or so. It is a good example of the new kinds of services that widespread XML uptake will enable, FOAF, friend of a friend is another, it is an XML based friendship network. AudioScrobbler is another shared information resource, based on listening habits, iScrobber is the MacOS X client.
Some random AppleScript ideas I had in the shower today. First to come to mind, one which acts as a contextual menu to create and prepare an image for upload; to a preset size, intelligently working out vertical/horizontal, for a photoblog entry with NetNewsWire in a future v1.02.
Make outlook calendar appointments which arrive in Mail end up replied to and put into iCal as appointments, respecting the invitees, so that iCal can act as an outlook calendar replacement, as a holder of appointments at least. Some of these may already exist, just spurring myself to write them myself.
Salon have compiled a list of anti war protest songs from a wide range of artists, including the Beastie Boys, Billy Bragg, Chumbawamba and Ani DeFranco. There are free mp3s to download from their website and links to each artist's own website. Much more music is available from the Peace Not War website, where they have a compilation CD with about 20 artists music available.
Andrew Marr's analysis of Tony Blair and the Labour party is interesting reading, looking at some of the possible outcomes for the Labour party. I was struck by a thought that if the war goes badly or their is a restless peace in the middle east, the Liberal Democrats could come out at the next election with more of the disaffected Labour supporters. Andrew Marr posits that there is a split in support for war within the Labour party, between male v female and middle v working class. The university and affluent constituencies being more likely to be antiwar. Food for thought I suppose, certainly there is relatively little distance in political thought between the two parties, with Labour having stolen the pick of LibDem policy. If anything the Liberals are further left than Tony is.
Today the April issue of Macworld UK hits the shops and the letterboxes. In it is my review of NetNewsWire 1.0, unfortunately you need to buy a subscription to read it, either online or print. Still I really liked the program and I gave it 5 stars. Ironically enough I wrote the review about a month ago, which seems kind of funny for a program whose aim is to give you the most recent news. Ranchero have released a final candidate of version 1.01 which addresses some of the small bugs noted in the review.
Today the BBC announced some job cuts that makes three out of three for me. Each company I've worked in has made people redundant since I came to London. I can see their reasons each time, it is still sad. It is primarily voluntary for my department, but my old department, iF&L has taken the brunt of the losses.
In the main BBC news story covering the UN debate on Iraq, there is a poll, which with nearly 20,000 votes as of posting time is two thirds in favour of the French and Russian veto on war with Iraq.
The style guide from the Guardian provides an interesting read on where they are taking the English language, they recommend dropping hypens and ie is two letters. There is lots of information on these pages, with about 20-30 entries per letter.
Hidden on Ranchero.com is the new beta release of NetNewsWire, this is the excellent rss reader for MacOS X.
A sad thing happened a week or so ago, I lost my penknife, which was an eighteenth birthday present from my brother. It looked a bit like the classic Swiss Army soldiers knife, except it had a saw too and once had red enamel sides.
Why is this interesting? So many things these days are disposable or replaceable. I carried the knife everywhere, it was my companion for nearly 14 years. Metal objects gain a personality through use, I don't mean to anthropomorphize it, as that would be foolish, but metal objects are durable, they gain scratches and nicks which tell a story. Mine had seen me through university, many odd jobs, various holidays to places like Chile and France and the US last year. Carefully avoiding getting it taken by airline security and making sure I didn't drop it and then I left it on a ferry from Calais to Dover.
It is only when you do not have something that you notice its absence, several times a day I'll reach for it to open a beer, or cut something or ... I'll get a leatherman to replace it, but it'll take years for it to fully replace the knife I lost, maybe, tell you in six months.
Matt Webb writes an interesting and thoughtful piece on London. I am similarly perplexed by London. I like it and dislike it, it offers anything I could wish for and many things I don't care for. However it is not dull or possible to ignore. It is said that more languages are spoken here and there are more different types of restaurant than anywhere else on earth, yet it is swarmed by branded store, Starbucks are legion, though the italian deli is right next door. It feels like little villages all packed together, not a planned city.
Today we got a card with a map of London from 1822, you can see the centre of London and all of the villages around the outside, like Hackney, Peckham and Brixton. A quick google search found this 1859 interactive map of london from the UCLA epidemology department, who have a study of John Snow. Nice map of Dicken's London, also via google, I do like maps.
London is a great place to walk in, you can see the details closeup, from the vacant site due to bomb damage from the blitz to the shiny new tower rearing up beside it. It is not a even place, you feel it pulls you in different directions, things clamour for your attention or it can be quiet and windswept.
Matt comments that the hidden Londons are the between things places, the maps show how these places formed, as each village grew to touch the next. Then London emerged from it all. London is such variety, turn the corner of one street and the neighbourhood changes. Walk a few tube stops on a sunny day and your footsteps reveal the mixed nature of the city. Desirable and not so, sit beside one another, somewhere might be on the up, hoping to be on the up or passé nothing sits still, but the city has a sense of continuity, London has a presence.
I've been meaning to write about Matt Webb's article on London all week. I was reminded about it on The Obvious this afternoon, then after posting about letterboxing below, I get a trackback ping from Euan who has been discussing letterboxing with Matt. In the meantime I was thinking what to write about London as my next post, in response to Matt's article above. All very strange and parallel, but I suppose not unexpected, I guess that these tools just make it faster and easier to come across these events.
b3ta mentioned the circle line party which is being run by the space hijackers, who seem a fun group dedicated to reclaiming some space back from the likes of starbucks. I particularly like the not cricket buy nothing day and the starbucks musical chairs game.
Lots of fun games and an odd pastime, letterboxing, which they have taken to the streets of london. Originally a game played on Dartmoor, you hide a box with a particular stamp in it and give some clues to find it. The London version has about 21 boxes and quite a few are near where I work, some investigation this week maybe ?
Very simple tasty recipe, sadly made more difficult due to the lack of easy availability of copious goats cheese in Uk shops, the inch and a half thick 6-8 inch long logs.
Simple salad of leaves and maybe thin slices of carrot, toast some goats cheese on bread, sizzle some lardon in the pan, dress the salad, put the grilled cheese on top, and scatter the lardon, eat.
On a different note I had some very nice chinese food in chinatown, I was introduced to the Fung Shing on Lisle Street by my friend Chris. Very nice food, so good that we considered ordering second mains.
Listening to the Radio4 earlier in the week I heard that they have discovered that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Apparently it has a host of health benefits, certainly I feel better after having a decent breakfast. Recently porridge has become the perfect start the day meal, one part oats to 2 or 2 1/2 parts milk and water. Of course with coffee.
Bit late catching up on this one, but from The Obvious, a sat picture of London at night, thanks Euan.
World of ends is a new website from two of the people behind The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. It simply in 10 points states what the internet is. They have written a short descriptive set of points that they outline on the world of ends website. Their main claim is that the inability of large organizations and people to understand what the internet really is means that people consistently make the same mistakes again and again. The article is essentially a reaction to the dotcom bubble effect, the internet is not paved with gold and will not be controlled. Collectively a lot of money was wasted discovering some simple facts about how the internet works, ie it is not broadcast. They present some guidelines as a point for debate and as a gentle shot across the bows of the large organizations with rights management at their core, like the music and film industry.
Here are their bullet points
1. The Internet isn't complicated
2. The Internet isn't a thing. It's an agreement.
3. The Internet is stupid.
4. Adding value to the Internet lowers its value.
5. All the Internet's value grows on its edges.
6. Money moves to the suburbs.
7. The end of the world? Nah, the world of ends.
8. The Internet’s three virtues:
a. No one owns it
b. Everyone can use it
c. Anyone can improve it
9. If the Internet is so simple, why have so many been so boneheaded about it?
10. Some mistakes we can stop making already
In response to an article on plasticbag.org about the ethics of weblogging, I posted a reply, which I'm extending here. I feel similarly about the creeping commercial activity on websites that are ostensibly uncommercial. Consider this post my declaration of interests. Since launching this website I have been observing my behaviour, I started writing quietly on my own for a month or so. Once I had a public blog, I thought that I'd want to recommend books to friends and family, so I setup a Amazon associate account. I noticed that I'd be tempted to write about a book I read sometimes just to link to it in the hope that someone might buy it and i'd offset my hosting costs. I've resisted and only linked to books etc where I genuinely have enjoyed or think the author is great. Hence no banner ads or blatant electronics promos, my website is my thoughts, not a catalog.
One of the things I noticed was the benefit I was providing to amazon in terms of better deep links into their site. It struck me that I was probably doing more work than I was getting in return from sales in a purely monetary analysis. So why do I continue? partly because I want to tell people about books etc I've read, but if I tell them then they might want to read it, so amazon provide a service by selling the book I'm talking about. To paraphrase the cluetrain, if our weblogs are a conversation and conversations are about the exchange of information. Sometimes I can't share the information because it is a book or a film, so I link to a source for the product and I happen to make a small percentage on the linking.
I guess it is a fine balance, you can see if someone has a book for sale every link, or has lots of banner ads, so you can read the commercial activity of the author. We are quite attuned to product placement having seen countless examples of it since the soaps started. Yet it is reasonable for a website host to make some money, if it has no direct cost to the person who buys a product. I'm less clear about the paypal or amazon honour schemes, but can see they have their place for some people. I suppose implicit advertising is harder to track, if the fact that I talk about is reasonable, what happens if I have an Store affiliate, does this make me a bad blogger ?
On a different note this micro economy does provide a mechanism for amazon and google to aggregate us and thus look at higher level population stats, they can analyse the incoming clicks and do trend analysis for ads or offers. So if we as a body didn't use amazon or google then they'd lose a good source of market intelligence.
Finally to declare my interests, on here you will find amazon links (I get 5-15%), a link to the cotswold outdoor store (I get 6%), later there might be an store link (I'll get 2.5%). Hopefully none of it is too prominent.
Nice to be able to do this, even if he will never see it I guess, Lucy's grandfather, Sir David Serpell, was a key figure in the Beeching report in the early 60s and there was a recent radio 4 programme, entitled Back to Beeching all about the events of the time and the feeling that the car was a wonderful creation. He is interviewed in the programme, about 10 minutes in, here is the real audio link to the programme. There is also a nice photo of him on the website for the programme.
Saturday market in St Omer is a busy and fun place, the range and variety of size in produce is so unlike a UK supermarket or even many english markets. All sorts of things are for sale: flowers; vegetables; clothes; hot food. Largely home made or home grown produce eg eggs, jam, cheese, vegatables, pastries and cider. Plus of course the lovely rotisserie chicken carts. And lots of conversation.
People also seem to value the market and there seems less of the omnipresent chain stores, MacDonalds being one of the few to strongly make its presence felt. The cafes and bars all feel independent, the markets sell local produce and are large and bustling. French cars, wine, food and beer are dominant, though there is a Chinese restaurant in St Omer, maybe it could be stifling, but it feels refreshing. In the market people taste and bargain, buy their veg and meat for the week, get lunch and flowers. Lots of clothing for sale too, maybe half the market is devoted to clothes, jewelery or similar. In England there seems to be nothing that is quite the same, the typical market doesn't sell the local produce, the farmer's market is local or deli produce and feels more up market, with less of a populist feel. St Omer market feels like a central part of the town, in the UK we have let the supermarket chains dominant to the exclusion of the local market, the butcher and the bakers.
Near where I live in East Dulwich there used to be 8 local butchers, now there are none and the sainsbury's staff can sell the meat, but often know nothing about it. How has this town in France along with countless others kept its cafes, its butchers and bakers, even with the huge hypermarkets on the outskirts of the town. I know that London is not representative, but this is true across much of the UK.
One bright note I read in The Guardian last week was the resurgence of local cinemas is starting to restore the street life of small towns in the UK.
All of this prompts some questions - is it the nature of the french to be concerned with their local area ? the english have a predominantly national press, in france and america the local papers have a stronger representation.
Driving to Calais from London to buy wine and food can be a tiring chore almost, but if you view it as travelling in northern france and take a weekend over it, then you avoid booze cruise shopping and get a short holiday in France. I really love this kind of short break, especially if it can be a long weekend, you get travel and eating and photography all combined in one go and an excuse to do some writing too.
It always amazes me that so many people get no further than the end of the tunnel or the local supermarket. I guess it is just down to time and money. However something so nice awaits you just over the road from the supermarket you are avidly shopping for wine in. If you can make a few days of it, then you can explore the Pas de Calais region.
The countryside is wide and the skies are large, but there are patches of forest and canals and lots of farmland. Small villages pepper the landscape. Though it is largely a similar land to the Kent countryside, it feels different, with the edges of frenchness blurred by Flemish and english occupation, yet still identifiable as northern france. On the way here through Kent you can observe on the map French names of villages, here the "inghem" of Flemish dominates in the village names. Happily this also contributes to the nice local beers too.
It feels quite agricultural here, but industry makes its presence known, paper factories on the river Aa leave their steam in the air. It is also more open here, less enclosed and built up than England. Though maybe this is a reaction of a Londoner to the wide open spaces, but the land does feel less hemmed in, the lack of hedges makes the views longer. People seem to value their space more, or maybe it is that there is more space here, after all France is a lot larger that the UK.
Coming to the north of France and visiting the markets and eating good food in the restaurants is an escape, and maybe it is that which I am reacting too, the different cultural influences the novelty and variety. Or maybe De Gaulle was right and the UK is not really part of europe. Listening to This Sceptred Isle - 1960s (buy it) in the car on the way back home makes you think odd thoughts. The parallels with today and the likely coming war are stunning.
Last May there was a story on Yahoo about a public toilet becoming a flat in London. The flat is now under construction and is at the end of my road, here are some pictures of the building. The main building is being extended to the rear and they have gutted the inside, still it is going to be tiny. It is right on the corner of two roads on the busy south circular, but it is almost opposite Forest Hill train station.
Picture of building
Closeup of the lavatories engraving.
Crozet is interesting stuff that you can get to eat if you head down to the Haute-Savoie in the south east of France. It is sort of a bit like large bits of rice made of white flour and buckwheat flour. Kind of difficult to find outside of there, but if you go skiing or mountaineering you'll definitely have had it. Perfect warming food for recovery after climbing. Only found a few mentions online via google, here is a recipe in french
One of the best political comedies of the past few years has sadly ended, an example from the final scene of the last programme.
Queen to Blair, "you have put a strongly put argument, which you clearly believe in", asking him would he go to war
Queen: would you go to war without a second resolution ?
Queen: without France ?
Queen: Germany ?
Queen: America ?
Blair: <no reply>
such a shame it will not be on thoughout the coming weeks. Highlights are available from the channel4.com website, with lots of video clips from the series