Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Egypt: Day Five...

We took a day off from sightseeing today. We got up late, did a spot of sun-bathing by the pool and generally just enjoyed the rest. At the end of the day we gazed out across the Nile towards sunset past the Valley of the Kings on the opposite bank. Later on we got changed and headed for Luxor station for our second sleeper of the trip – a night train back up north to Cairo.

Unfortunately this was a miserable experience from start to finish. In the sleeper cabin next to us was a guy with a DVD playing at full blast. We were going to say something but as we opened the door to the corridor we saw that he had a very large automatic gun over his shoulder – the type you see in terrorist films. We careful reversed back into our cabin and closed the door deciding that caution was the better part of valour. Later on we discovered that there was a VIP in our carriage and that explained all the security personnel on board.

As if the noise of the DVD man wasn’t enough the top bunk in our cabin kept banging violently against the wall as the train progressed its way down the Nile so we ended up having no sleep whatsoever – despite taking something to knock ourselves out. Bah!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Egypt: Day Four...

It was an early start for our second day in Luxor – breakfast at 6am and then hitting the trail to the West Bank of the Nile. Our Egyptologist Ahmed was all smiles as he said he wanted to show us his favourite sites in Luxor. First was the Habu Temple – a huge structure with massive columns, brilliantly vivid hieroglyphics and what has to be the oldest surviving bathroom in history.

Next we visited the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple which had been partially restored by an American team. The temple had been built against a rock face and looked pretty dramatic. Originally the place had been constructed by the New Kingdom’s very own female fatale pharaoh Hatshepsut. By all accounts she was a pretty strict ruler and when her son-in-law/nephew/step-son (inter-marriage was big back then) Tuthmosis III took to the throne he had all her images chiselled off this temple. Actually he had her image chiselled off EVERY temple. The sort of ancient Egyptian equivalent of cutting people out of old photographs, I suppose.

Last, but by no means least, we visited The Valley Of The Kings. Looking rather like an old quarry the places was littered with entrances to tombs. The three we chose to visit were:

Ramses III - a beautifully decorated tomb with highly detailed depictions from The Book of Gates.

Tuthmosis III – this tomb was deep, colourful and in pretty good shape. The guy obvious loved his mother as they were both painted on the same boat in the burial chamber – a rare thing to do. He obviously died at short notice too because what with only 70 days to mummify the body they didn’t have time to properly carve the hieroglyphics – most were simple painted straight onto the walls.

Ramses IX – a very big tomb full of pictures of Ra, slaves and serpents from The Book of The Dead.

It had a real wow factor that valley I can tell you. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel to rest, eat and take it easy. You do a lot of walking on these site visits.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Egypt: Day Three...

The sleeper train from Cairo to Luxor was a bit of an adventure. Sure, it was comfortable enough but it’s hard to sleep properly when it’s all stop/start and side to side lurching. We were met at the Luxor train station by our second rep of the trip, Ahmed. Another minibus journey through Luxor’s pleasant and sun drenched streets and we were in our palatial hotel beside the Nile called, appropriately enough, the Nile Palace Hotel.

First we had lunch by the pool before heading off to do a bit of exploring. For this we had engaged another Egyptologist, also named Ahmed, who took us to the rather wonderful Karnak Temple (a massive structure on the Nile) followed by equally impressive Luxor Temple in the downtown area.

Both temples were upwards of three thousand years old and furnished with numerous obelisks, pylons, sphinxes and hieroglyphics covered walls telling tales of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III (more of these two later), Ra the sun god and various Pharaohs through the ages. All pretty amazing stuff, I can tell you.

Having had our full for the day of Egyptian antiquities we headed back to the hotel for some supper and an early night. For tomorrow we would be doing the West Bank.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Egypt: Day Two...

What a day this turned out to be! We were up early to pack and to grab some of the carefully selected buffet breakfast in the Mena House Hotel’s palatial dining rooms. We’d heard many tales of Egyptian belly so were picking the safest options (avoiding peeled fresh fruit and things that had obviously been washed in local water). This culinary pickiness was confirmed by our tour guide Abdo, who we meet later down in the lobby, with the simple explanation that Egyptian water had too much purifying chlorine added to it and so was disagreeable to Western tastes. An argument that seemed slightly self-serving but was delivered with such a broad smile we could not help but take it was the truth.

We had engaged an Egyptologist for the day whose name was Hamdi. He was a pretty friendly chap and soon put us at our ease. Once aboard the Egypt Lady van we drove all of sixty seconds to the Pyramids proper (I told you it was close!)

We had the full statistical tour chat from Hamdi (the largest of the three pyramids has two million blocks, weighs six million tons, was built by farmers not slaves etc.) took our snaps, fended off the annoyingly persistent touts and climbed up one or two of the levels on the Great Pyramid. The tourist police let you get to level three before blasting their whistles at you to climb no further. The middle sized Pyramid we decided to enter. Crouching down we scrabbled in. It was hot, humid and really rather fun. No cameras were allowed in sadly. Well, not officially anyway. Tee hee.

We when drove round to the panorama location for the obligatory tourist snaps. Sadly, it had just started to rain but we didn’t let that spoil the view or our excitement. Hamdi knew just the right places to stand and suggested one or two fun shots to take too. An old hand at this obviously.

Back in the van we circled round to see the Sphinx. Carved from a solid piece of rock this noseless guardian of the Pyramids was as large as it was impressive.

After that four and half thousand year old spectacle we dropped by a Papyrus factory to see another one. We watched a demo of how the plant gets peeled, sliced, soaked, laid out and pressed to form the ancient paper material. I ended up buying a couple of replicas too. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

Then it was on to The Egyptian Museum to get what was the merest whiff of some of the treasures it contained. Numerous antiquities were on display from statues, vases and mummies to Tutankhamen’s death mask and his solid gold coffin. It was quite some collection. We were both rather surprised at quite how easy it was to touch the exhibits though - forbidden to do so but the finger stains told a different story. In fact one of the Egyptologists we spoke to thought that both France and Britain should hang on to their Egyptian treasures until the new Egyptian Museum is completed (it’s currently under construction). Prime example cited was the Rosetta Stone. “Keep it for now”, he said, “It’ll be safer.”

After the wow factor of the museum we headed for a bite to eat at the downtown and rather down market Egypt Lady hotel – a rather tacky experience to be honest made even more bizarre when the heavens opened and the rain poured through the roof into the restaurant. We scrabbled to the bar for cover but the rain just kept on coming down - in buckets. On advice we left for the train station early just in case there were any weather related delays. Cairo traffic is pretty much the worst I have ever seen in my life – add to this the torrential rain, the mud and the weekend crowds - it made the traffic in Blade Runner look like a ride in the countryside. It was bumper to bumper gridlock all the way to the station. It got so late that we had to abandon our minibus and leg it down the dimly lit mud slide that was highway 1, jumping a spike covered wall to make it to the station on time. Once there we ended up waiting for two hours on the platform anyway as all the trains were delayed. Grrr. Still, at least we hadn’t missed our train.

When the train finally arrived, we climbed aboard and prepared ourselves for a night in a sleeper cabin and the 500 mile journey down south to Luxor. What a day!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Egypt: Day One...

We packed for our holiday rather late - as usual. As you may know, dear Reader, I detest flying so anything to delay the inevitable trip to the airport gets my subconscious plotting like softie Walter trying to avoid bumping into Dennis the Menace on the way to school. These tardiness tactics included the multiple rechecking where my passport was – still safely secured in my left front pocket some hours previously - the endless questioning of Stuart over what clothes to take, “should take TWO pairs of jeans or one?” and the desperate last minute time-waster “I’m just going to have a shave.” Again.

In spite all of this procrastination we made it to Heathrow T3 a good three hours before the flight was due to leave. Damn you subconscious. You must try harder next time.

The flight was a code share. So whilst we’d booked with BMI we were actually due to enjoy the delightful service as provided by almost bottom leaguers Egypt Air. Check-in was a breeze however and luckily the Egyptian national carrier had ditched most of their dodgy Russian-bought fleet so we were actually boarded upon a relatively safe Boeing 777/300. Joy on joy the flight was half empty too so take-off was on time and the on board food service fast.

The single central aisle-shared video screen left something to be desired in the in-flight entertainment department but we coped. On that note, does Sandra Bullock EVER make a good film these days?

The flight lasted five hours and passed without much incident. The landing was a little bumpy but then that was to be expected what with all the cloud cover. Yes, we were flying into a desert region that had a weather forecast of heavy rain for two days. Ugh.
The guy from Egypt Uncovered who met us at Cairo’s new terminal was called Abdo. He was very charming if a little over-friendly in that tour guide kind of way. The van that picked us up was called Egypt Lady. Quite.

The hotel we were booked into was called the Mena House Hotel and was in Giza. It was a grand, gold leafed hotel with what could only be described as an intimate view of The Pyramids. They were pretty much in the hotel’s back garden.

As it was getting close to midnight we simply grabbed a nightcap in the lobby bar (G&T and a beer came to just under £20 sterling - who said Egypt was cheap?) before heading to our room for a good night’s sleep.

Egypt - Kate Bush...


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bass-o-matic - Fascinating Rhythm...

Gosh, I love this song. Good old William Orbit.

(Got ya) (Devastating) Give me some of that bass line on your stereo / Give me the funky rhythm and we're ready to go / A little something for the heart, some medicine for the soul / And now we got it under full control.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Depeche Mode...

Last night Paul, Simon, Stu and I went to see Depeche Mode to the O2 Arena. TfL ("tough f*cking luck"?) had decided to close the the Overground, the Jubilee Line AND the North Greenwich Bus Garage so we were rather stymied for options for getting to the gig. We ended up getting buses, tubes, DLR and eventually a boat to get there. Grrr.

Anyway, the gig was fab; loud, brash and full of sing-along hits. We loved it.

The set list was:
In Chains
Hole to Feed
Walking in My Shoes
It's No Good
A Question of Time
World In My Eyes
Miles Away/The Truth Is
Policy of Truth
In Your Room
I Feel You
Enjoy the Silence
Never Let Me Down Again

A Question of Lust
Behind the Wheel
Personal Jesus

Friday, February 19, 2010

Gary's Party / RVT...

Last Sunday was Gary's birthday so we all headed down to the RVT for a party. A lovely end to a lovely weekend. More snaps and video here.

A Well-Bred Person...

A well-bred person appears in print on only three occassions: birth, marriage, and death. "Yes, darling," he said, "but I'm not that well-bred."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Small Crucifiction...

It was a fantastic weekend just gone; party on a boat, party in club, Duckie, Carpet Burn, S*L*A*G*S*. As I was leaving Carpet Bun a man nudged me and whispered in my ear, "we are having a small Crucifiction after. Hope you can make it."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

iPad mini...

Sources in Cupertino have exclusively confirmed that Apple intends to follow up its anticipated iPad success with a miniature, pocket-sized version boasting added voice technology. "The iPad's a great device," an executive familiar with the matter said yesterday. "But think how great it would be if you could carry it in your pocket. And it's got a SIM card in it - which opens up an exciting prospect, that you'd be able to call people up on their actual phones."

But what would this elusive Unicorn of a device possibly be called?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Aliens Rap...

This is simply fabulous. The film Aliens told as a rap with clever lines of dialogue completing the rhyme.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mimó - Will You Be There?...

Following a great response to Running Out in the blogosphere, Mute's latest synth-pop sensation Mimó release Will You Be There?, the debut single, on 8th February 2010. But just who is Mimó I hear you ask? Why, it's our own, our very own Mr Andy Bell.

Why all the secrecy up until now? Well, Andy was keen to release his new solo material under a pseudonym and chose the name Mimó as a tribute to his friend Tomeau Mimó. Sadly however there is already a musician working as Mimo who has legally challenged Andy's right to use a variation of that name for this project, so from this point forwards all further releases will be come out under Andy's own name.

Will You Be There? is produced by pop maestro Pascal Gabriel (Dido, Kylie, Ladyhawke) and capturing the essence of the dance floor classics and unforgettable pop anthems that made his name, the single includes remixes by Seamus Haji, Sonic C and French Horn Rebellion, which push the boundaries of club classics.

Will You Be There? (Original Mix)
Will You Be There? (Seamus Haji Big Love Radio Edit)
Will You Be There? (French Horn Rebellion Mix)
Will You Be There? (Sonic C Vocal Mix)
Will You Be There? (Seamus Haji Big Love Remix)

For those of you who may have missed it here's Running Out and Running Out (VEGA Italo Dub Mix)

The debut album from MiMó will be released in 2010.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Tim's Birthday Kazbar...

On Sunday Stu and I headed down to the Kazbar in Clapham to help Tim, along with this lovely friends and family, celebrate his birthday. Great fun.

Snaps here.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Kinetica Art Fair...

On Sunday we walked down to P3 opposite Madame Tussauds to see the Kinetica Art Fair. It was great fun. Lot's of moving art, light shows and optical illusion art.

Kinetica Art Fair is produced by Kinetica Museum and is the first of its kind in the UK. It provides collectors, curators and the public with a unique opportunity to view and purchase artworks from leading contemporary arts organisations and artists specialising in kinetic, electronic, robotic, light, sound, time-based and interdisciplinary new media art.

[Thanks for the recommendation David]

Friday, February 05, 2010

War Horse...

Last night Stu, Mark, Mark's work mate Sarah and I went to the New London Theatre Drury Lane in London's glitzy West End to see War Horse.

It would be difficult to imagine a production of greater ambition and complexity - for all the animals in the show, including the full-sized horses, are puppets.

One soon gets used to this grand deceit though and accept the sight of two men in a horse body and someone moving the head - for these are no pantomime horses. They are intricately contrived mechanical devices that manage to convey a horse's movements and mannerisms perfectly. So much so that one soon forgets that they are puppets and the story begins to shine through. And what a story it is.

Based on Michael Morpurgo's best-selling book War Horse recounts the adventures of a horse, Joey, as he moves from life on a farm into the battles of World War 1 on the Western Front. It is a story of a friendship lasting through the toughest of tests.

In the First World War, along with the dreadful toll of human lives, there were other casualties too – some two million horses. They were used as cavalry horses, for pulling guns and ambulances; in the battlefields of the Western Front they were essential to the armies on both sides. At the end of the war most of our surviving horses were sold off to French butchers.

A powerful story, well told.

And, no, I didn't blub. Although many did.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Get Lost: A Survivor's Guide...

Series six of Lost begins tomorrow night at 9pm on Sky1. Can't wait. But for those you who have maybe either not watched it, have forgotten what has happened thus far, or indeed are just plain confused by the labyrinthine plot here is a quick survivor's guide.

Series one
On a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, Oceanic flight 815 crash-landed on a deserted Pacific island, leaving 48 survivors, including: handsome doctor Jack, sexy fugitive Kate, smouldering conman Sawyer, miraculously cured paraplegic Locke, former Iraqi torturer Sayid, heroin-addicted rock star Charlie, overweight lottery winner Hurley and a dog called Vincent. Jack and Kate looked like getting frisky on the beach where the survivors made their camp, but Kate was also attracted to the roguish Sawyer. In the meantime, the jungle started spewing forth smoke monsters and hungry polar bears. Locke discovered a hatch in the ground somewhere in the jungle and spent most of the series trying vainly to open it.

Series two
Some survivors from the other half of the plane – which crashed across the island – trekked to the beach to find their fellow passengers, only to spend the rest of series two getting killed one by one. The "Others", the original inhabitants of the island who'd been snooping around killing and/or kidnapping survivors, lived in holiday chalets and were led by Ben, a budget version of Kevin Spacey doing "sinister". Locke blew the hatch open and found angry Scotsman Desmond down in the island's concrete catacombs, listening to records and pressing a button to prevent the destruction of the world (don't ask). Locke decided not to press the button. The world sort of ended – well, the sky went all white for a minute or two.

Series three
Desmond woke up seeing the future – specifically, that Charlie was going to die, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Charlie died. Meanwhile, Jack, Kate and Sawyer were taken prisoner by the Others. Jack agreed to operate on Ben's cancerous kidney. Kate and Sawyer got freaky. Jack got friendly with Juliet, one of the Others, then helped Kate and Sawyer escape. Locke dumped his friends and started hanging out with the Others. Locke and Ben went to see a ghost called Jacob in a hut in the jungle. Then Ben shot Locke because he felt threatened by how chummy he was getting with the other Others. (Ben is deeply insecure.) A freighter arrived to take the survivors home. Or did it...?

Series four
Four sciencey people from the freighter landed on the island in a helicopter, but they were more interested in finding Ben than they were in saving the Oceanic survivors. And it turns out the sciencey people weren't the only ones on the freighter; there were also a band of mercenaries sent by the villainous Charles Widmore (Jim from 'Neighbours'), hell bent on killing everyone. But Sayid and the Others somehow kicked their asses anyway. Claire disappeared in the jungle. Like, literally disappeared. Locke took over leadership of the Others. Ben pulled an underground lever and moved the island. Like, literally moved it. The sky went all white again. Some of the survivors were in the helicopter when the island moved, so they crash-landed in the ocean, only to be rescued by Desmond's girlfriend, Penny, in her posh boat. Penny, incidentally, happens to be the daughter of Jim from 'Neighbours' – sorry, I mean "Charles Widmore".

Series five
Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sun, Sayid and Claire's baby returned to the mainland claiming they were the only survivors of the crash. Sayid became a hitman. Hurley became a nutjob. Jack became an alcoholic, then persuaded the rest of his reluctant friends to return to the island. On the island, things went mental. The characters kept involuntarily flashing through time, which gave some of them killer nosebleeds. Eventually, they were stuck in the 1970s, where they pretended to be part of the Dharma initiative. We met two guys who'd been on the island for a very long time. One wore white and was called Jacob. One wore black and wanted to kill Jacob. Ben and Locke killed Jacob instead. Faraday, one of the sciencey guys from the freighter, decided to detonate a hydrogen bomb and destroy all the magnetic energy that caused the plane crash in the first place, which would reset the clocks and put everyone back where they started, on that flight to LA. After a lot of shooting, grenade-throwing and so forth, the bomb fell down a hole, where Juliet banged it with a rock. The sky went all white. Again.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Equality Bill...

So the Pope is coming over to the UK and has fired off a few salvoes about how equality can go too far, huh? So what's got his goat?

Well, the Equality Bill is currently making it's way through Parliament. The Bill contains an Equality Duty that will require public bodies to think about different groups when planning and delivering services. There are already duties which currently cover disability, gender and race - the Equality Bill will replace these with a new duty which will also include religion and belief, age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment in full.

Scary, isn't it? Equality. Well, scary for those who remain in power through the politics of fear.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Queer Question Time...

Last Friday night Darren and I went down to the RVT to watch Queer Question Time. It was a fun old night. The trans-community were feeling sorely aggrieved because the allegedly transphobic Julie Bindel was on the panel. Consequently there was a fairly well-attended and vocal demonstration outside the venue with the police on hand.

The panel in full were:
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London
Julie Bindel, freelance journalist and political activist
Jonathan Fryer, writer, broadcaster, LibDem politician
Shazia Mirza, comedian & writer
David Gold, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Eltham

The night was at times chaotic to be honest with frequent interruptions by a few people inside the venue who seemed to want Ms Bindel to answer for some of her 'hate crimes' against transgender people (their words not mine.) It is always interesting to see people struggling for the moral high ground at events like this.

The arguments still roll on and on but one thing is for sure - I'll be going back to the next QQT.

One ray of hope was found amongst all the shouting and insults though when Mark Healey (organiser of the London Hate Crime Vigil in Trafalgar Square) asked a question...