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.



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.


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.

Bed in, bed out

Mirinda now has a new bed at the flat. It arrived this morning, about ten minutes before the old one left.

I was a bit concerned that the new one wouldn’t turn up while the old one left, leaving us with nothing to sleep on – I suggested we’d end up at the Hilton. But all turned up well.

In fact, I was sitting at my laptop, happily Skyping with mum when I noticed a great big Benson’s for Beds truck turn into the road. I figured it highly unlikely that anyone else could be having a bed delivered around the same time, on the same day from the same bed company, as us. And I was right. I said goodbye to mum, locked Mirinda in the lounge, talking to Sarah, and waited for the bed to make an appearance…which it duly did.

The bed came in five boxes and one huge plastic bag (the mattress). The delivery guys dropped it and ran away. I remember the wonderful service we had from Furniture Village when we our lovely bed was delivered at home. How they couldn’t do enough for us. Two lovely chaps built the whole thing, took away all the packaging and even the old bed. Not so, with Benson’s.

But I didn’t have too long to think about it as the guys for the old bed turned up almost immediately afterwards. This time I locked Mirinda in the bedroom, talking to Sarah, while this rather chatty guy took the old bed away. The bed was in the lounge room, which is where we slept last night and why I had Mirinda change rooms. It wasn’t because I was being annoying.

Anyway, new bed in and old bed out and Mirinda was off to book group. For the first time, she was travelling down to Alton by train from London. A bit different to the usual 20 minute drive in Sidney.

As for me, I had a bed to build. I finished at 3:30pm and suddenly realised I’d have to go and buy a sheet for it (the mattress is a different size to the old one). I made a dash for John Lewis.

I was under orders to buy the highest density of cotton thread (thread count) in order to achieve the best possible sleep. I picked up a king size fitted sheet which had a thread count of 1,000. I looked at the price. I don’t know about you but I reckon £150 is a bit much for one fitted sheet, no matter how comfortable. I put it back.

Given that the thread count is how many threads are woven into a square inch of fabric (that’s length and width), 1,000 suddenly becomes quite an amazing number. Still, given the thinness of cotton, I’m not sure I’d feel the difference between 1,000 and 420 threads per square inch. Not that I’m ever likely to find out.

Anyway, as it turned out, John Lewis has stopped supplying the king size 420 thread count fitted sheets (regardless of the colour). I know this for a fact as the young lad working in the Manchester department went out of his way to show me on their stock system. Sadly, he didn’t say why, possibly because he didn’t know.

So we ended up with a thread count of 200…which I reckon is more than enough.

Mirinda made it back from book group feeling rightly proud of herself for managing to catch the Tube at peak hour and rejoiced in the new bed, complete with sheet.

Speaking of numbers, today was 14/04/14…except not in any of the other calendars. Of all of them (and there are more than a few) I think my favourite is the Yoruba calendar of Nigeria. It only has a four day week and 91 weeks in a year. And, rather than being 2014, it’s actually 10056.

And now, without much more ado, I’m off to enjoy the fruits of my labour by collapsing on the new bed.


Chaul Chnam Thmey

It’s the Cambodian new year today. It celebrates the end of the harvest season. The celebrations last for three days and each day has a different name. It starts with Maha Songkran, moves into Virak Wanabat and finishes with T’ngai Leang Saka. Yesterday was 2557 and it is now the year 2558 of the Buddhist Era. So, Happy New Year!

As well as the Cambodian new year, it was also London Marathon day. Part of the race was around the Isle of Dogs, the route effectively turning the area into an island of its own. We were prisoners in the immediate area around the flat!

The crowds at the end of the road, cheering on the runners

The crowds at the end of the road, cheering on the runners

The most annoying thing, however, was the almost constant noise from the TV helicopters. Here’s one of the irritating things.

Where's the Mortein?

Where’s the Mortein?

Mirinda had an appointment with a new hairdresser at 3pm so, after Skyping with Bob and Fi, we had lunch (leftovers from the Lotus) then left the flat. We thought we might have to jump on the DLR and go a couple of stops in order to cross the roads, which were full of marathoniacs. We hoped not as it’s a rather expensive way to cross two lanes.

Then we saw it. A little bit of organisational genius. This is probably really obvious (and old hat) to people who go to these sort of public inducing activities, but it was all new to us. The stewards have a lot of red stripy plastic which they reel out across one lane, forcing the runners (and walkers) to move into one lane. Then they herd the pedestrians into a narrow corridor of barriers in the middle of the road. Once this corridor is full, they retract the red stripy tape from one side of the road and start to draw it out across the other. The pedestrians then cross the rest of the way.

And not a single competitor was inconvenienced. As I said, genius.


So, we had no problem getting to the hairdresser and Mirinda didn’t get too annoyed. And the new colour looks fantastic.

Late in the afternoon, I took apart the old bed and moved it into the lounge room because, tomorrow, the new bed arrives! YAY!

Fortitude and determination

In March 1843, the Thames Tunnel opened to pedestrian traffic. It was the first tunnel ever to be built under a river. It took 15 years and cost a lot of money and lives. I wonder they didn’t just build a bridge. If they had built a bridge, though, there wouldn’t be a Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe for us to delightfully discover. Because it was built by two Brunels, father Marc and his son, Isambard Kingdom.

This week, instead of turning left, we headed in the opposite direction, west along the Thames path from the Hilton ferry. Of course we started the day rather late with what amounted to lunch at Carluccio’s before heading down to the wharf to make the choppy crossing.

How it used to look

How it used to look

Our first stop was the Lavender Pond Nature Reserve. This is not far from the Hilton, just off the Rotherhithe Road. It was part of the whole docks and quays set up this side of the river, back when ships arrived to dump their loads of timber. It opened in around 1815 and served the area well until it was closed in 1970 (with most of the rest of them) and, in a amazing lack of foresight, filled in.

A few years later (1981), all of that fill was dug out and a new Lavender Pond was created. This amounted to one of the first urban nature parks in Britain. And it’s quite peaceful though when the museum is closed, you can’t wander along the boardwalks or within the actual reserve. We did see a mallard on the water though.

Thwarted, we wandered on, reaching the Surrey Basin just in time to watch a very long line of Ramblers stretch out across the waterway. Quite odd. I’ve never really understood walking in groups. It somehow takes the solitude out of it.

With Canary Wharf behind them

With Canary Wharf behind them

Walking along the Thames Path, when it actually goes along the Thames, is always a treat but when you find an interesting sculpture, it’s doubly so! And this is what we found today.

What art thou reading, boy?

What art thou reading, boy?

It’s called Sunshine Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket and was made by Peter McLean in 1991. It shows a boy from the 1930′s, reading a comic while the ghost of a pilgrim reads over his shoulder, shocked at what the future will bring. I had a good look at the comic and it’s full of the sorts of things that would frighten the bejesus out of a pilgrim. Just look at the pilgrim’s expression. He is totally shocked.

The reason for the pilgrim is because this is very close to where the Mayflower left for the New World back in 1620. In fact, years ago, when I was working at Global Beauty, I went for a drink at the Mayflower pub, which is just around the corner from this statue. And we walked right passed it today, on our way to the Watch House cafe in the oddly named Rotherhithe Village.

I say ‘oddly’ because the village in question contains a pub, a church, a cafe, a restaurant and a museum…but no shops. Hardly a village, if you ask me. Though, because Mirinda was adverse to a visit to the Mayflower, we went to the Watch House cafe because Trip Advisor raved about it.

Originally, the Watch House was a shelter for the evening watch to sit and keep an eye out for grave robbers – it’s right next to the grave yard. These days it’s a sort of trendy cafe which sells amazingly huge white chocolate and sea salt cookies (delicious) and lattes (very, very, very weak – you’d like them, mum) as well as other light stuff you’d expect from a small cafe in an old Watch House.

Then, from the cafe, we made our way around the corner to the Brunel Museum. I’ve been a big Brunel admirer for many, many years so this was a wonderful find. The museum is in the original engine room for the Thames Tunnel and tells the story of its construction as well as delving a bit into Isambard Kingdom’s other great achievements. One of those is the now defunct cabled Hungerford footbridge across the Thames that is all but gone these days, replaced by a far more modern version that also takes trains across.

In fact, outside the museum, someone has created a few benches in the shape of some of his bridges. Mirinda found this old scruff sitting on the Hungerford one.


Having spent the requisite amount of time in the Brunel Museum, we made the long walk back to the Hilton, crossed the river then went back to the flat.

After a well deserved rest, we went to the Lotus for dinner. We’re becoming right regulars, we are.

Doesn't look very surprising from the future.

Doesn’t look very surprising from the future.

Originally a mad doctor

Horace Walpole’s opinion of Anthony Addington was not what you’d call, high. This opinion was somewhat influenced by the fact that William Pitt (the elder) was very ill and it appeared that Addington couldn’t cure him. The general consensus was that Pitt must be insane. Both literally and figuratively.

Walpole’s opinion seems a bit harsh to me (part of it is the title for this post, by the way). Whatever was wrong with Pitt, Addington sorted it out and, while he was at it, he also managed to cure William Pitt (the younger) with a generous course of port wine.

Pitt (the elder) was so utterly convinced in Addington’s prowess that he even ignored King George III when he suggested another physician. When all was said and done (and Pitt regained his health), Addington had cured him with all care and attention.

Addington had been a doctor for a while when he sorted out Pitt. Born in 1713, he moved from Reading to London in 1754 and continued to practice in the capital for 20 years. He seems to have drifted into an early form of psychiatry, almost accident. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Oxford and, one day, just decided he’d rather deal with the mad. He had a room built on the side of his house in Reading in order to receive his mad patients. I’m sure his wife Mary wasn’t bothered, one little bit.

In return for the return of his mind, Pitt (the elder) decided that Dr Addington would be an excellent gossip. This was very handy in the days before Twitter, if you wanted to get your point out into the world anonymously and without fear of retribution. And, of course, just like Twitter, the blame would fall directly on the messenger.

So, anyway, what Pitt (the elder) would do was tell the good doctor what he thought of, say, the war with America and then tell him to only repeat it word for word. Clearly the his opinion had been really well prepared in advance. Where this plan came a-cropper was that other people saw the advantage of having a social media-like delivery system and would tell Addington their gossip as well. The trouble was that Addington just spread the word out and the wrong people heard the wrong things and the whole system just broke down.

There was something of an all mighty ruckus in Parliament with people accusing everyone of saying things they didn’t actually say…and vice versa. Then Pitt (the elder) died and they all moved on.

Dr Addington retired to a country estate in Devon, a happy and, I assume, wealthy man. To be fair, he did help the poor of Reading for nothing, whenever he felt he could.

I bet he thought he had it made and was busy with rod and hook on some river somewhere when a call from the palace sent him searching for his medical bag. The prince of Wales wanted Dr A to examine his dad, the king. When a committee especially formed to discuss the king’s mental imbalance asked Addington what his diagnosis was, he loudly proclaimed that the king would be fine in a year. The reason was, he said, because he’d never seen a case of madness, followed by a period of melancholia that didn’t wind up completely fine and dandy in just 12 months.

That was in 1788 and Dr A died two years later. And, of course, poor King George became increasingly mad. Oops.

And here is the amazing Dr Addington as chipped by Thomas Banks in 1790. He might look very alive but the model for the bust was the good doctor’s death mask.

Dr A at the V&A

Dr A at the V&A

At the library

As I explained to Nick at Work, I am presently about 85% certain that I’ll write a book about the Thames Ironworks and Ship Building Company. After all, I’ve already researched a lot of it and finding the human angle shouldn’t be too difficult. For this reason, I went to the Caird library today – the one at the Maritime Museum.

First thing, though, I Skyped with mum for half an hour before walking Mirinda to the ferry. And, lo and behold, there was the mighty tug, Redoubt, ploughing her way down river, hauling her barge full of containers. What a wonderful sight.

The mighty tug Redoubt, dragging along a load of containers

The mighty tug Redoubt, dragging along a load of containers

Following a very close encounter with the Hilton ferry, she managed to head into the distance and I left for Starbucks then the DLR. I thought that Canary Wharf station looked wonderfully Victorian in the sunlight.

DLR Canary Wharf,  looking very Victorian

DLR Canary Wharf, looking very Victorian

It’s but a short trip under the river to Greenwich and I soon found myself eating lunch at the museum cafe just to the left of the big ship in the bigger bottle. I think the Caird is behind the small windows at the top.


I then sat down and studied the three volumes I’d ordered the other day. All three were interesting for different reasons and I found lots of lovely stuff for my researching needs. Five hours later, I emerged into the early evening sun and, blinking back the bleary tears, made my way back to the flat.

Mirinda was at a work dinner so I could happily study to my heart’s content. Which I did.