Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Night Watch

Today, just after 9pm, the Summer Triangle was visible, and some lesser stars - about the 21:25 mark at the last entry.

By about 20:45, it was dark enough to want headlights, not just side-lights.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Nature notes

I went over to walk the first section of the Peddars Way today, to use up some annual leave. There were the first blackberries of the season ripe, to take the edge off my thirst, and a variety of butterflies - red admiral, peacock, a pale yellow. A bunch of young pheasants burst out of undergrowth ahead of me, and then ran off down the path, providing me with outriders for several tens of yards, before they finally got the idea of leaping into the cover beside the path.

The 1986 vintage HMSO guide I was using was clearly out of date - by the Thet, it warned that the path was narrow, slippery, and on the very bank of the river. When I got there, there was a comfortable wide plank raised walkway. Some lads were swimming in the reedy water, and blue and red damselflies flitted past.

The breckland scenery was quite similar to that of the Gévaudan, where I walked last year.

P.S. The 1986 vintage guide also neglected to note that the mobile 'phone reception is bad especially when you're walking along the path between two bits of the Army training range...

P.P.S. Also the Dog and Partridge pub is shut, and the inn-sign is fading and peeling, though the more obvious signage looks fairly fresh. The "Closed" plates on the door make the message clear, though.

The march of progress

It's not only just faster processors and bigger hard drives. A couple of years ago, I replaced my 1986-vintage bike with a new one, and was amazed by the added comfort of the ride with the alloy frame and suspension on the seat column. This summer I upgraded my sandals (hard leather and buckles Jesus-style jobs) of similar vintage for modern plastic ones with padded straps and velcro fastenings. Ah, comfort.

But you know it's progress when, like on Saturday, we picked up a mid-day snack at a Marks and Spencers food store near St. Pauls - a couple of wraps - 3 bean and sweet potato, and four cheese and sundried tomato - on the grounds that at the station, the best we'd have would be roast vegetable and brie sandwiches. Twenty years ago, ham, or cheese and pickle would be the best on offer, like as not, and even coronation chicken would be exotic.


We went on the London Eye during that trip. I would advise, if you want to go, to take a disabled friend. You manage to queue-jump most shamelessly, get cheap rate tickets, and a less crowded capsule!

It's surprisingly high - more than it looks. My own "flying dreams" tend to happen at ten(s) of meters at most. This was ten times higher - about 400 feet - enough to look over all the rooftops, and out to the hills to north and south. Well worth it, even if it is only 25 minutes.

Senior Moments

My 46th birthday isn't for a couple of weeks yet; but on Saturday, going up to London, in a train crowded by Japanese language students (i.e. young Japanese learning English in England), there was nowhere to sit. So after a while of standing in the aisle, one of the youngsters got up to offer me his seat. This is worrying.

But then one of the stopover hotels on our spring holiday, we were charged the Senior Citizens rate for dinner (which, frankly, was all that it was worth).

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Film — Goodbye, Lenin!

Took in a late showing of Goodbye, Lenin! last night; a comedy of Ostalgie, nostalgia for the old certainties of the Cold War partition in Germany - a woman from East Berlin who has been a stalwart of socialism falls into a coma in October 1989, and doesn't waken until the next summer (after the fall of the Berlin wall); to stave off another, likely fatal, attack she must be kept in bed, and protected from shocks (like the fall of the DDR, for example).

Hollywood has forgotten how to do films like this, going for gross-out or schmaltz instead. There were a few moments of general audience laughter, as a her son goes to increasingly frantic attempts to maintain the illusion that nothing has changed, culminating in an over the top attempt to disguise the reunification celebrations as the triumph of socialism, but nothing forced beyond the premise.

[Now playing - Silver Mt. Zion - Take these hands and throw them in the river]

Road Rage

It happened again today. I'm cycling along, and there's only one car in sight - and it's about two lengths behind me. I'm intending to turn right in a while, but am staying close in to the kerb, waiting for him to pass, and there's plenty of time for him to do so before I have to manoeuvre, and I've done nothing that would be an indication of being about to pull out. And he slows down!

So I slow down. And he does some more. Usually this ends up with me stopped opposite the turn and having to wave the car to pass before the stupid wassname will do so.

Today's was particularly annoying, as the turn off is at the bottom of a slope, so I had braked away all my speed before making the turn and having to ascend again.

[Now playing - Silver Mt. Zion - This Gentle Heart's Like Shot Birds Fallen]

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Swallowing camels

On the radio news the other day, people getting in a froth about the civil liberties implications of using RFID chips to replace bar-codes; they worry about post-sale tracking and marketing. But that's just corporations, who are only after your money - and failing buying a dedicated RFID-finder/zapper, microwaving should be OK for the purpose on most garments.

Meanwhile, too many people (and much of this authoritarian government) seem to think that mandatory ID cards are a good thing - and unlike corporations, a government has a veto over life and liberty.

[Now playing - Sigur Rós - Starálfur]

Nature notes

Well, the harvest is nearly done. Most of the fields I cycle past are now stubble, or have been ploughed up to dry and erode. Only the very last of the wheat remains; and there is spilt grain along all the roads, fattening the pigeons and other vermin - I saw a rat running, bold as brass, along the top of a gate.

[Now playing - Sigur Rós - Svefn-(g)englar]

Tuesday, August 12, 2003


Cycling home last night, I passed by a group of youngsters in my home village, one of whom called out at me in an Arnie accent "Hasta la vista!". So either the muscular physique or the shades did their intended job.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Film — Il Gattopardo

Recently seen include the restored print of The Leopard (Il Gattopardo),a long dreamy, lush view of the Risorgimento from the pov of a Sicilian aristocratic family watching themselves, and their island, being sidelined by history. The scene where Burt Lancaster, playing the head of the family, turns down a place in the new Senate, is the kernel of the film. (Subtitles)

Also showing as part of the summer season at the arts, Kirikou and the Sorceress, a 1998 French animation, with music by Youssou N'Dour, telling a story based on some part of African folklore, where a magical child defeats the sorceress who has been terrorising his village. There is a serious bit of double standards going on in the film certification world - whereas Belleville Rendezvous was given a 12A rating (children under 12 at parents' discretion) with the warning "Contains mild slapstick, nudity and moderate violence" - with the nudity being a brief appearance by a topless Josephine Baker type character in a cabaret scene, Kirikou was given a U (all ages), despite the fact that most adult characters were topless, and all the children naked throughout - the old National Geographic defense, I suppose. Personally I think that the certification for Kirikou was right, and wouldn't have flagged it for Belleville Rendezvous

That aside, it was a marvellous, magical film, which I strongly recommend.

OTOH, I was really nauseated by the saccharine Disney trailer (the Mouse having the distribution rights) for the wonderful Spirited Away that preceded the main feature. I also preferred the sub-titled version we saw at the Film Festival, rather than the US accented dub (even if the dialog seemed to match the sub-titles to the best of my recollection).

Made in Japan

Last night, we went to see the Mugenkyo taiko drummers at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. We'd seen the Yamato Temple Drummers there a couple of times before, so I was quite surprised to see a bunch of gaijin come on stage to do the drum katas, in a performance every bit as good as the "real thing".

Night Watch

This title records nightfall, and the way it shows the passing of the seasons - what do I mean when I remember that "by the end of August, it's getting dark at 20:30"? and that I can never quite believe before it gets there, after the dark of winter, that yes, in mid May, twilight lasts until at least 21:40.

On Fri 8th August, by 21:20, Arcturus and Vega were visible in a luminous blue sky, but the light was enough for easy colour vision. By 21:25, the whole Summer Triangle, and a couple of other stars had "popped". By now it was no longer possible to read by natural light alone. By 21:30, only the most intensely red flowers showed much colour. By 22:00, colour is gone, except for a deep blue sky with stars.

Phew what a scorcher III

The hot weather continues in a cycle of murky misty mornings, just that bit too mild to be autumnal, though they look it, hot sticky afternoons, and nights where even the light summer weight duvet spends all its time on the bedroom floor. Being mid-August, we're getting into the season where the light is going before the heat.

P.S. Today broke the previous UK record temperature - 101F at Gravesend. I siesta'd in the p.m., to be woken by a seriously loud thunderclap - which heralded just a little sprinkle of rain to up the humidity, but at least some air movement. In the evening, thunderclouds with flickering lightning walked across the northern horizon, about 21:45, nigh-black against the last glow of the sunset.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Phew, What a scorcher! (ctd.)

Cambridge airport weather report - but misty next morning

At 19:30 last night the heat was still like an oven - even the breeze was hot; and that was at the start of an hour's cycle home. Getting home, I just slumped in the conservatory with much cold beer until it got too dark, soon after nine (by ten it's night dark now).

And so to bed - duvet off, fan on. An unfortunate side-effect of heavily insulating the loft is that the hot air pools upstairs, so even with the windows open wide, it was too hot even into the small hours, too hot for comfort to, let alone ever feel the need to pull any bed covers on. Going downstairs at 07:00 was like emerging into blessed cool, with some breeze.

On the way to work, most of the time I was under low murk, giving an autumnal feel with haze and greyness, but a very high humidity and that sticky promise of much heat to come that characterises the early mornings in August. The murk is at last burning off now.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Phew, what a scorcher!

Cambridge airport weather report - 35C at 17:20 BST Cambridge airport weather report - 36C at 16:20 BST

I've been checking my weatherpixie recently. At 16:20, she was down to her scanties at a temperature of 36C; an hour later, ditto, at 35C. Shall wait until later to cycle home!

[Now playing - Hawkwind - Right to Decide]

Rags to Riches

My dad has gotten deep into the genealogy thing in his retirement (some of the results appearing on my other blog); but we'd always blocked on the male line with my great-grandfather (in whose generation the family name went from Gillham to Gilham).

Finally, a breakthrough - part of the reason for the blockage was that, despite having risen to a position of some prosperity and beome a Mason, he was born in the workhouse. Now we might be able to get back deeper into the 19th century, compared with the late 18th for the maternal line.

And we have hints on the Walters & Austin/Austen side of some hook-up with some of the big pottery families, like Wedgewood and Cartwright-Edwards (though this may all be on the wrong side of the blanket). Otherwise, it's looking like peasants all the way back.

[Now playing - Labradford - E Luxo So.1]

Gardening notes

Pruning the plum trees yesterday evening, I spotted the first ripe fruit on the Czar - just a couple as yet, but still very early, while the cherry tree has just about finished cropping for the year.

[Now playing - Wishbone Ash - Blowin' Free]

Digital Impudicus

After a couple of weeks of Planet Rock, I'm really disappointed with its restricted play list - the tracks have gone from "I haven't heard that for ages!" to "But I heard that yesterday!" in quick order. Just the same couple of tracks from each band - only late Deep Purple for example.

The sooner the BBC extracts a digit, the better.

[Now playing - Wishbone Ash - Time Was]

Monday, August 04, 2003


Went to the biennial Cambridge gaming con at New Hall the past weekend, with Mich and Hammy from Stabcon

Friday night - sign in, then find that the Real Ale bar isn't yet functioning, so after the Opening Ceremony, and a little time chewing the fat, head down to the Café Naz, one of a chain of curry houses that replaced the notorious Curry Centre of student days. A very nice garlic chilli chicken - just hot enough to get me hiccupping, and very garlicky.

Back at the con, do a few hands of Reaction, a sort of Snap-on-steroids, which didn't tax the brain, Carcassonne - Hunters and Gatherers, one of these recent German resource management games which seem so popular, then Trans-America, a railway game which is actually quick and simple - unlike the usual run of the genre. Then round off the evening at the showing of the Gamers - a short film on DVD about a group of gamers and the game they're running - a sort of live action Dork Tower that leaves no cliché unmocked.

Saturday - after unloading about a yard of dead RPG stuff (perhaps 10-15% of the collection) for the auction, spend the time through lunchtime sitting in on the various panels, and shoot my mouth off; then after grabbing a quick lunch, drift into town in the sudden fine weather to do some frivolous shopping (I end up with Dirty Three She has no strings, Apollo [rougher than their other albums] and Labradford E Luxo So [dreamy!]).

On my return, I kibitz the much over-subscribed HeroQuest demo. The system doesn't look much changed from when it was called Hero Wars - though the GM admitted that due to popular request, he didn't use the Action Point bidding, it was still in the new version. Otherwise it looked like the typical FRP session, with everyone going off at cross purposes, and clawing every possible bonus for each action.

That broke up about the time for the evening panels, so I went back to the lazy option. The stuff I had put up for auction went for a reasonable amount, and I refrained from over bidding on some of the items I might have liked (such as Ken Hite's Cthulhu Tarot, or Gorey-esque Cthulhu alphabet ("A is for Azathoth, who fell from the sky/ B is for Byakhee, the horror that can fly..."), and ended up with just the Mage Tarot to add to my collection of divination decks.

Sunday was much the same - panels in the morning, kibitzing HQ in the afternoon, with occasional excursions into the cooling breeze of the shaded walkway. The weather also seems to have driven a few people who were double-booked from the Folk Festival to something that could be indoors or at least shaded. (The Cambridge Folk Festival is always the last weekend in July, so Conjuration was set on the first in August, so as not to clash. And so the Folk Festival decided that starting on Thursday 31st was "their" weekend - which annoyed the con-com, and hit the attendance levels).

The strangest thing - the water-feature/moat in the central court that usually contains koi had been drained. And someone had hung up plastic fish in the empty trenches.

[Now playing - Afrocelts - Onwards]