Occasional clouds

Following the rain yesterday (the first for ages) today’s forecast was for occasional clouds with showers. First thing, it was hard to imagine the day was going to be anything but perfectly blue.

I headed out for Starbucks and Waitrose wearing my sunnies, a spring in my step and a song in my heart. Mirinda stayed at the flat, feeling a lot better apart from the sore ribs and persistent headache.

I have found the perfect time to go shopping in Canary Wharf. Between 9 and 10 on a bank holiday morning. The place was delightfully deserted. Even at the usually impossible to get a seat at Starbucks, there were only three customers. And I was one of them.

Strolling around Waitrose was almost like being at Farnham first thing in the morning…almost. There were about 20 people in the place but it is the largest Waitrose in the country, so it looked quite empty. I said as much to the woman on the check out. She assured me that the crowds would arrive, just later than usual. It being a bank holiday, I assume they’ll all be sleeping in.

Back at the flat, I had some breakfast and then Mirinda announced she felt well enough to go for a walk. She then added that we wouldn’t be going far in case she was struck down again. So we set off, heading towards Westferry Road in order to ascertain whether there was a supermarket anywhere near any of the river view flats she quite liked.

As it turned out, there wasn’t, however, we did walk passed what was once Millwall Ironworks and Ship Building Company from where was launched the Great Eastern!

grtEastern

Apart from being extremely famous for that, it was also, more importantly, the shipyard that Charles Mare took over after he went bankrupt and after John Scott Russell also went bankrupt because of the Great Eastern. It was awfully exciting to see a building that Charles would have known and entered. Interesting that he didn’t rename it.

sign

From here we ended up in Millwall Park, a big open area surrounded by trees and home to a large number of exercising and excessively beefy looking men. And another boy called Rafi. I’m assuming his name was Raphael that had been shortened to Rafi because there couldn’t possibly be another, genuine Rafi.

The most impressive thing about Millwall Park has to be the viaduct. There was no sign explaining its history or significance but, upon returning home, I discovered that it was once part of a railway branch line that ended at the river. Apparently when it was first opened (1871), there was a lot of opposition from the owners of East and West India Docks because they feared the steam engines would send sparks flying onto their highly flammable cargo and wooden buildings. This was only natural so to combat such a thing happening, the train company had horses pulling a tram car until they reached a safe distance from where a locomotive could take over.

The line was closed down in 1926 and a lot of it was used by the DLR. In fact, the old Millwall Dock station (which has completely disappeared) is where Crossharbour DLR station is today. The viaduct, however, was left in place as a permanent reminder of past glories…and as a rather odd entrance into Canary Wharf College.

viaduct

There’s a rather interesting history of the line here. Okay, Mirinda, I think it’s interesting…

From the park we headed across to Mudchute Park and Farm, walking back towards the flat. It was then that the rain decided to fall on us. We’d all but missed the occasional clouds that had crept up on us, blackening the sky. We didn’t miss the massive raindrops that drenched with every single fall.

People went scurrying for shelter as the giant rain fell. Everywhere was chaos and mayhem except for this little chap, happily chewing away at something only a squirrel could eat.

squirrel

Being Australian and not afraid of a few raindrops, we continued walking back to the flat, cocking a snoot at the people shivering beneath the DLR railway bridge.

The rest of the day was spent at the flat (for Mirinda) and shopping for stationery supplies (me).

As for the occasional clouds…well they all disappeared until after the sun had set. Then they must have returned, bringing with them a few close friends, because the rain didn’t stop.

Tummy trouble

Just to set the record straight. An over indulgence in Easter eggs was not the cause of Mirinda’s upset stomach. It was more likely caused by Savoy sweets and Royal China takeaway. Either singularly or combined.

Whatever the cause, Mirinda spent the day in agony. She spent some time awake, lying on the lounge but for the vast majority of Easter Sunday, she was bed ridden and fast asleep.

Apart from the obvious discomfort the bug also meant we had to miss out on having lunch with Amanda and Carlos. This had been planned for quite some time, to coincide with our stay at the flat. Alas, it was not to be.

And weather-wise, it was a rather good job. It rained most of the day with drenching showers punctuating the otherwise overcast conditions.

Subsequently, I spent most of the day working on my possible book about the Thames Ironworks.

My research proved very fruitful. I was able to discount some inaccuracies and found some wonderful links in the most unlikely places. It seems that the ship building industry of the 19th century was like some big boy’s club with everyone knowing everyone else. How delightfully Victorian it all was.

I’m not going to write much about it at the moment except for one tidbit…Peter Rolt, the man who saved his son-in-law’s business from vanishing forever from the history books, had a timber yard at Acorn Wharf. This might not seem that amazing (and it’s not, really) but it was on the site of Surrey Docks Farm. We visited the farm back on April 5. Looks like I’ll have to return.

The driest Martini

When you ask for a dry vodka Martini in the American Bar at the Savoy, this is what you get.

martini

And it was the driest Martini I have ever had. Superb.

The reason we were at the Savoy was because today we had tickets to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound and Samantha Bond. It’s a musical version of the movie. It was fantastic! We thoroughly enjoyed it. We also thoroughly enjoyed going to the Savoy, which has to be our favourite venue.

dirty

Imagine, leaving your flat, hopping on a ferry, leaving the ferry at Embankment, strolling through the beautifully blooming tulips in Embankment Gardens, entering the labyrinthine lower parts of the Savoy, head to the American Bar to enjoy a perfect dry Martini with olives (and nibbly things) before taking our seats to be royally entertained by an enthusiastic and talented cast. Then, after the curtain, imagine walking back through the tulips, back onto a ferry, and back to the flat, stopping off to collect some takeaway Chinese that Mirinda had ordered from the ferry.

That was pretty much our day though I did leave out a couple of things. They have to do with the appalling customer service displayed by the Thames Clipper staff.

Today, it was mainly about the woman selling tickets at Canary Wharf. First of all she assumed I wanted two tickets when I’d only asked for one. Well, actually, I just said “A return to Embankment, please” so I guess I didn’t actually say I only wanted one. That has stood me in good stead in previous mercantile dealings. I mean, when I go into Starbucks and order “A grande, triple shot, hazelnut latte, please” they don’t prepare me ten of them. Last week when I bought a pair of trainers, the guy didn’t try and sell me four boxes. No. Normally, I only get one.

But that was only half the problem. Mirinda wanted to renew her monthly pass. This was something the ticket seller was frightened of. Subsequently, she had to wait for the ticket collector guy to return and help her. Any delay or query about every day operations makes Mirinda somewhat tetchy. As the ferry arrived, she was a little bit further on than merely tetchy.

She’d already told a woman in the queue behind her that she could buy a ticket on the ferry (the ticket seller insisted that the woman could not, to which Mirinda merely replied by repeating that she could…this could have gone on a long time) so she took her own advice and told the ticket seller she would buy her ticket on the ferry as well.

That was all a bit unnecessary and could have spoiled our day but we didn’t let it…and the ferry ride was so wonderful, it couldn’t be ruined anyway.

Then, on our return trip, we came across the Ferry Nazi. This woman was pretty ferocious. But we, basically, ignored her, talked about our garden and watched the boats float by on the busy Thames.

boat

But, briefly back to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels…it would be remiss of me not to mention Katherine Kingsley who played Christine Colgate. She has the longest legs possible and a wonderful voice. We thoroughly enjoyed her performance. And we mustn’t forget John Marquez, (he usually plays the hapless policeman, PC Penhale, in Doc Martin) who played Andre Thibault, the hapless French policeman.

To be fair, everyone was fantastic, as I said earlier. As soon as it finished, I wanted to see it again.

Greenwich

For Mirinda’s birthday, she decided she’d like to go and visit Greenwich, walk around some flats, have tapas for lunch…as you do. And so, that’s exactly what we did.

Following a lovely long lie in, we made our way to the wharf in order to catch the ferry across the river (and east a couple of stops). I was immediately put on guard by the ticket seller telling me that it should be okay for one (they count people on and off because they have quite a strict limit). I quickly explained that it was two (Mirinda has a season ticket) and the ticket seller looked querulous. She checked with the big ticket collector standing just behind me. He suggested it would be okay for two.

As we waited for the ferry (which arrived late) another four people turned up. As they fiddled about with some sort of tablet device, taking photos of one of them whose birthday it was (coincidence), I was thinking, very loudly, if there was only room for two, we were getting on and these people could swim for all I cared.

The ferry arrived and the boat-boy was taken aside by the ticket collector who told him we were allowed the first two places. What a lovely chap! Anyway, as it turned out, there were heaps of free seats on the ferry and there was no need for any wrestling or fisticuffs or anything else even remotely embarrassing.

We arrived at Greenwich to a wall of people. They were blocking the ferry exit ramp because they didn’t have their tickets ready. That was our first taste of the crowds out to have a good Friday. Or a Good Friday, depending on your personal preference and belief system.

We stood by the Cutty Sark, weighing up our options.

cutty

Mirinda was a bit hungry but wasn’t sure whether to go walking first. I reminded her that there were a lot of people in Greenwich and we may not get in anyway so why not try and then take it from there. She thought this was a workable idea so we headed for the San Miguel.

As it turned out, this was a very good decision. When we entered the restaurant, we had a choice of just about every table. By the time we left, the staff were sending people away, telling them there was a 45 minute wait for a table. Our timing was impeccable. As was the food. We had six delicious tapas dishes (four to share and oysters for Mirinda and grilled sardines for me) and our waiter was so grumpy, we could have been back in Madrid.

Completely full of Spanish nosh, we headed over to the river to check out a new apartment complex being built and almost completely sold. A great location with a Waitrose deliberately close at hand. Interestingly, between the main tourist area of Greenwich and this delightfully expensive apartment building are council estates. So bad, they have post silly signs like this one:

Seriously?  Dog toilet facilities?

Seriously? Dog toilet facilities?

I’m fairly certain there’s not many dog owners who have successfully taught their animals to use toilet facilities. If you ignore Brice, I suppose. But this is the sort of ridiculous thing you often see put up around low at heel estates. Don’t ask me why. Back at home, where the civilised people live, it’s enough to tell dog owners to bag it and put it in a bin.

Still, the block of flats was very impressive and the view over the river, wonderful. We then headed up the High Street and found an extremely quiet part of Greenwich. It was like one moment the noise was horrendous and all pervading and then, suddenly, we turned a corner and there was nothing. I have to say, it was very pleasant.

One of these is for sale

One of these is for sale

We finished the day with a wander through Waterstones, a purchase of some lovely vintage sweets in a vintage sweet shop and, finally, the DLR back to Crossharbour.

A lovely, if somewhat tourist intensive, day.

A local woman, not happy with all the tourists.

A local woman, not happy with all the tourists.

Car alarms

What is the point of car alarms? Seriously.

When one goes off (because a leaf falls on the car), no-one comes running because their precious piece of metal is in imminent danger. The police don’t suddenly appear in order to arrest the cat that accidentally brushed a wheel arch with its whiskers. It just goes on and on and on annoying anyone within earshot.

I quote part of a frantic question from a chap who lives in Leeds:

My car alarm has suddenly started going off for no reason…The only way I can figure out how to stop it going off is to leave it unlocked. As you’ll understand, that’s not entirely satisfactory. I live in the middle of Leeds and leaving it unlocked really isn’t an option overnight.

His concern was for his neighbours, which is rather generous of him…though not quite so much as his concern for his car.

How on earth would anyone know his car was unlocked overnight? Does that happen in Leeds? Do great hordes of roving car thieves just walk along every street, trying the door handles of every parked car until they find one left unlocked because the alarm keeps going off?

Here’s another quote from a man whose alarm suddenly started going off on a new car:

Paranoid as we don’t have a great deal of luck with car alarms! Previous 2 cars both developed problems and had to have a lock on one of the doors replaced. 3rd time unlucky?!

Third time unlucky? Third time proves you’re an idiot, if you ask me. How hard is it to buy a car without a car alarm? I’m probably being incredibly naive. Probably car insurance companies won’t give you cover if your car doesn’t have an alarm because car insurance companies just love pissing off people without hearing problems.

And it’s not just me. This was posted on a forum by a woman back in 2010 (it’s her grammar and spelling):

is there anything i can do about a car alarm that keeps going off all hours of the night? i read somewhere that the police can be called & the car towed if the alarm’s been going off for more than 45 minutes, but what if the damn thing goes off for less than a minute but several times thoughout the night? the stupid car is parked right outside my window & it’s either sleep in my sweatbox studio or crack the window open & be woken up at random times during the night. augh! i’m starting to think of mean ideas after having to deal with this for a few months now.

Advice from subsequent posters ranged from decorating one of the headlights of the offending car with a cream cheese bagel to pouring a box of bird seed over the car to smashing a side window, popping the bonnet and pulling one of the leads off the battery (though I’ve also read that car alarms have their own power source so that last one won’t work). Oh, and the police won’t tow the car unless it’s reported stolen. Actually, that could be another way of stopping the alarm. Write down the rego and report it stolen.

And while I was made annoyed by an alarm which kept going off down the road from the flat, I am silenced when I read something like this, contained in a report from the Ukraine, yesterday.

There is a large military presence still here in Kramatorsk. There is a military jet that buzzes low overhead, making a ton of noise and setting off car alarms every couple of minutes.

Now that would REALLY be annoying!

I should add that I really like the bird seed idea…

Stuck in the middle

This afternoon I hosted a meeting between our kitchen guy (OptiBob) and our builder (Dave the Builder). It seems that Mirinda and Dave have some concerns which only OptiBob can sort out. As it turned out, OptiBob and I sorted the problems out because there wasn’t any.

I was perfectly aware there wasn’t any problems but, Mirinda always has to be sure and Dave the Builder is sometimes a bit vague. Fortunately not about building things but sometimes his attention does tend to wander a bit. This, I think, was one of those times and it was just magnified by Mirinda’s imagined problems.

As usual, the house was much altered when I arrived. Paul the Brickie was busy with a jack hammer, ripping out the base of the dining room fireplace. He’d already removed the chimney breast.

Burn mark

Burn mark

At one point he was discussing calling Dave the Builder about getting more insulation but he couldn’t ring him. Clive was confused and said as much, asking him why not. He explained that he hadn’t paid his telephone bill. Clive then asked why he hadn’t paid his telephone bill to which Paul said, “…because I still haven’t paid that fine!

Eventually, when Dave called him, he asked him for an advance so he could get his phone working again…and pay ‘that fine’. He’s a funny chap but more than delighted with how the house is progressing. He reckons it’s going to be incredible. He loves the size of the space and the light that will flood in.

Light

Light

That’s a photo showing the timbers in (for the roof) and half the huge opening for the skylight. I thought it looked like the world’s biggest impluvium. If it was, it would need one hell of a pool underneath. Anyway, the best photos are on Flickr.

I left Paul and Clive to it will I cut the grass (and yes, Mum, I remembered my shorts this time). I then took a walk down to Homebase because we have to select a colour for the render. This is coloured render, we’re talking about. So you never have to paint it again. You do have to like the colour though because you can’t paint it.

We’ve had a bit of a confusing series of conversations about the render colour. According to Dave, the rendering company he uses, don’t like giving out colour charts because customers get annoyed when the colour doesn’t match perfectly. So, his advice is to look at some magazines until you find something you like then let him know. This seemed easy enough, so Mirinda went through a whole load of pictures online and forwarded the relevant links to Dave. He then came back to say that he couldn’t find a name for the colour. Which brings us back to the colour chart. Which is why I went to Homebase.

Now I find a whole load of coloured render websites with colour charts. In case it’s not obvious, I’m rolling my eyes at the moment.

Back from Homebase, I did some work on my Thames Ironworks, almost 90% certain project while eating lunch then went and actually did some weeding. The day was a delight and the tulips were all looking lovely. How could I possibly resist?

The new ones beside my office

The new ones beside my office

And that was it really. We had our meeting and everyone left. Then I left too…but not before snapping a sneaky photo of Dave the Neighbour’s little extension that he’s having built at the same time as ours.

Toilet extension

Toilet extension

It’s just a little bit smaller than ours…

Up in the air

When I showed Nicktor a photograph of the Emirates Air-line, stretched across the Thames, he didn’t think it was real. Today I set out to convince him otherwise.

I had planned my day out perfectly. I’d booked a ticket to go to the Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern first thing – Tuesday at 10am really is the BEST time to go anywhere – and decided I could get a ferry from Bankside to North Greenwich from whence the mystical Air-line departs. As it turned out…everything worked out perfectly. I even overheard this incredibly funny conversation.

A German tourist (you have to imagine his very heavy accent) approached an official looking chap at the ferry ticket window.
TOURIST: Excuse me, I wonder, could I ask you a question?
GUY: Of course, sir. That’s what I’m here for.
TOURIST: I was wondering…which way is the sea?
GUY: [after a lovely pause, he pointed towards the east] That way, sir.
TOURIST: Ah, yes, good, that is what I thought. [Slight pause] But then, I wonder, why is the water going that way? [Pointing to the west]
GUY: Well, sir, it’s a tidal river. [Pause] And, at the moment, the tide is coming in.
TOURIST: AH! Of course. Tidal river. This water comes from the sea. In that direction?
GUY: Yes, sir. And, if you come back in about six hours, you can watch it going back out to sea.
TOURIST: Thank you, thank you.

It doesn’t sound as funny when written down. Shame because it had me in stitches.

However, that was after seeing the Richard Hamilton exhibition which, I am pleased to say, was wonderful. Although I’d never heard of him, I was familiar with a couple of his works (so I discovered at the exhibition). According to something I read at the Tate, he was the first person to coin the term ‘pop art’. I don’t know how much truth there is in that statement but he seems like the sort of cool dude who would have said it first.

One of the pieces I knew was Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, a collage reproduced below.

Richard Hamilton 1956

Richard Hamilton 1956

It was made by cutting ads out of magazines. It’s very clever but also quite humorous. But that’s not the only sort of thing that Hamilton created. He changed medium and style as the need struck or his natural curiosity impelled him. He seems like he was a lovely man. He has a very friendly face, at any rate. And I’ve seen it a lot of times.

You see, when he was visiting Roy Lichtenstein in 1968, he had his photo taken with a Polaroid camera. When he returned to the UK, Hamilton decided to buy a Polaroid of his own and get everyone he knew to take a single photo of him. Which they did. He published four volumes of them between 1971 and 2001. I saw about 70 of them today.

However, my favourite piece (of course, there has to be a favourite) was An Annunciation. It’s difficult to see the overall effect of the piece from the image below but it was as if you were looking into a room that was inside another room. Your eyes are drawn deep into the other room and it’s difficult to look away. A beautiful piece.

Richard Hamilton 2005

Richard Hamilton 2005

And talking of beautiful…it was a beautiful day as well. Stepping out, onto the Tate balcony, I was stunned how glorious the Thames looked in the sun.

mill-bridge

But that was nothing compared to the amazing views from the Emirates Air-line! Truly breathtaking. Especially when the little capsule bumps over the cable stretched between the pylons 295 feet above the water. And the capsules really are quite small. They are supposed to seat ten. I reckon they’d sit ten five year olds. Adults, you’re looking at more like six…and they’d need to know each other quite well.

I’m making it sound awful but it was far from it. An amazing experience. Mirinda claims that there’s people who commute on it. How incredible would that be? Anyway, here’s a few shots of and from it (there’s a few more in my Flickr account).

That's a long way up

That’s a long way up

Floating above the Thames

Floating above the Thames

I think it’s something that everyone should do when they’re in London. Of course, it would have to be a nice day. Perhaps I was just lucky. Mirinda says I’m ‘jammy’.

Anyway, that’s the most exciting thing I’ve done for a long time. I needed to rest after that. Oh, except for moving the bed a few inches.