Monday, February 28, 2005

Prankster geeks

Had such a hankering for South Indian food yesterday that I returned to my favourite South Indian vegetarian restaurant, Ravi Shankar Bhel Poori House on Drummond Street, for lunch. I last ate there two years ago, celebrating the passing of my viva and getting my degree. The food was as delicious as I remembered it.

Of course I had a bhel poori (a cold mixture of poori, puffed rice, potatoes, red onions, green chillis, and a spiced sweet and sour sauce) with my salty lassi (a plain yoghurt drink), then an amazing spinach and paneer cheese dosa which I had never had before (rice pancakes filled with spinach, curd cheese and some grain I couldn't identify, accompanied by coconut chutney and a vegetable sambhar). Though I couldn't finish the dosa (they kindly packed it for me to take away) I couldn't resist ordering the creamy saffron shrikhand for dessert. I don't know why I eat there so infrequently.

Afterwards, we watched The Yes Men, a documentary film about two anti-globalisation pranksters duping business people into thinking they are global trade advocates.

I went to see the movie because we knew some of the people involved in its making. And it had its interesting moments: Fictional WTO spokesmen fly all over the world delivering lightly-disguised anti-free-trade lectures on such absurd topics as recycling post-consumer waste into fast food for the developing world and spying on your oppressed workers with the help of a gold lame codpiece with a two-way TV screen.

The latter lecture is delivered to a business audience whose passive acceptance of the message is disturbing, though one wonders whether any of them were actually listening -- too bored out of their minds to pay attention. The former lecture is presented to university students who are suitably outraged but take it so seriously they fail to work out its satirical subtext -- a failure that is just as disturbing.

Much of the film is spent following the incredibly geeky Yes Men around the world as they prepare for their stunts. There is so little context, comment or analysis that the movie ultimately underwhelms. In short, it bored me. Unlike Michael Moore's documentaries, there is little here to convince those who are not anti-globalisation activists that the WTO is fundamentally flawed.

The Yes Men lost my sympathy last year when it was revealed that they were behind the cruel hoax that led to thousands of Bhopal victims of the Union Carbide disaster of 1984 believing they were to be offered a $12 billion settlement. It was a prank that went too far and had more impact on the victims of the disaster than on the perpetrators.

I agree with The Guardian's assessment of the activist hoaxers: "The stunts were not so much self-defeating as self-cancelling, leaving the corporate structure undamaged in each case".

Related link:

+ Bring back the awkward squad. The circus of celebrities and cheap stunts is a bastardisation of a crucial aspect of political culture, argues The Guardian:

"Dramatic stunts and well-orchestrated media coverage have ensured that a succession of modest minority interest groups has held the public interest to ransom - the petrol-pump protests, Fathers4Justice and the pro-hunt lobby have all shown that you don't need to mobilise the support of large numbers, and that you can bin the questions of legitimacy, the careful research, or the reasoned debate once regarded as essential to advance your cause. Now, the most useful prerequisites for campaigning are a taste for extreme sports, a talent for acting or a clever conman."

Sunday, February 27, 2005


The world's highest tennis court -- built 211 metres high and covering a surface area of 415 square metres -- on the helipad of a luxury hotel in Dubai.

I've visited the world's highest cricket pitch, in India's Himachal Pradesh. Built in 1893 by a cricket-mad Maharaja, after levelling a hilltop, this cricket pitch stands at 2444 metres high.

Other links today:

+ Civet coffee: "the rarest coffee in existence", of which "only 500kgs are found each year", produced "after fermentation in the civet cat's digestive tract". What's so special about a £22.95 for 57gram packet of civet coffee? Nothing much, according to Blogjam.

+ Office sweeties have no secrets. Office romances are on the rise, but your IT administrator knows every detail. "Your network administrator has a copy of every e-mail you've sent and received over the company network. Instant messaging is not the answer -- IT can view anything on your computer while it's on the network, including your chat logs and the window you have open on your screen. A web-mail message can't be intercepted, but that doesn't mean it can't be read while you're composing or reading it."

+ Our waste howling 'cyberness'. "Blogging, I've discovered, is about as stimulating as singing to my refrigerator. The echo of my words dissolves quickly into silence. I long for a regular card game, a lively cafe, a place where individual expression is heard and seen in the flesh, not tapped onto a screen and sent into cyberspace where it awaits someone else wandering around in the wilderness."

+ Virtual girlfriends. "Men, are you tired of the time, trouble and expense of having a girlfriend? Irritated by the difficulty of finding a new one? Eberhard Schoneburg, the chief executive of the software maker Artificial Life Inc. of Hong Kong, may have found the answer: a virtual girlfriend named Vivienne who goes wherever you go. Vivienne likes to be taken to movies and bars. She loves to be given virtual flowers and chocolates, and she can translate six languages if you travel overseas. She never undresses, although she has some skimpy outfits for the gym, and is a tease who draws the line at anything beyond blowing kisses." (Reg. req.)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Africa Remix

Last night we saw the Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent exhibition at the Hayward Gallery -- the largest exhibition of contemporary African art ever seen in Europe, but which isn't about "African art" as such. Featuring artists from across Africa -- from Algeria to Zimbabwe -- the show covers a wide breadth of mediums from video installations and photography to sculpture and painting, and is as gloriously incoherent, diverse and eclectic as the continent itself.

In an attempt to impose some form of structured narrative, the show explores the intersections between various themes: City and Land (for example, Ghanaian El Anatsui's shimmering eight metre high golden cloth hanging made from thousands of bottle tops, and Nigerian Dilomprizulike's sculpture of people standing at a bus stop made of plastic bags, rusted metal, clothing offcuts and other found materials), History and Identity (featuring, among others, central African Samuel Fosso's photographs of himself in various guises from a woman to a sailor), and Body and Soul (for example, Egyptian artist Abd El Ghany Kenawy's video installation on memory and hope).

A chaotic feast of such diversity that my senses were a little overwhelmed. But knowing nothing about the contemporary African art scene (I doubt a singular one exists), I discovered artists I would like to investigate more, particularly Samuel Fosso (photo above), Jane Alexander (photo below), Allan deSouza, and Bodys Isek Kingelez.

Related links:

+ Africa remix 2005 official site (Flash needed)
+ BBC World Service programme discussing issues raised from Africa Remix
+ BBC's Africa 2005 pages
+ Behind the mask. Naive, primitive? African artists have outgrown these labels. Why haven't we, asks The Times.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Voodoo kitchen

It's scary how badly I want these.

Via Cheesedip, who also shares my bacon obsession (speaking of which, check out Bacontarian; speaking of which again, my favourite bacon dish is very simple: bacon stir-fried with garlic and chopped brussel sprouts -- though spring greens are also a perfectly delicious sprouts substitute; and speaking of which for the final time, bacon was the first meat I ate after having been vegetarian for 11 years, in Delhi, India, on the first day of 1994).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Desperate foodies

Along with half the western world, it seems, I have succumbed to the fever that is Desperate Housewives. Intrigued by the hype that DH would be a Sex and the City / Twin Peaks mashup, I watched the first episode and was hooked. Though it hasn't really lived up to its promise, it's still the only other TV show I record so as not to miss it (the other is the Eastenders omnibus).

Being a foodie, I couldn't resist this review of DH in last month's The Observer Food Monthly. "Desperate Housewives is all about food," The Observer declared.

"At the wake of a suicidal Alpha housewife, for example, each of our main characters arrives bearing a dish which offers a deeper insight into her life. We meet Bree (Brie?), who brings colour-coded baskets of exquisite foodstuffs, trails the family she's neglected totally in pursuit of domestic excellence in her wake (to Bree, cooking isn't an expression of love, it's what she does instead); and who tries to kill her husband with a rogue onion. We meet Susan, who equates her inability to cook with deeper failings, and who doesn't blame her husband for leaving her because of it. Ex-career gal Lynette, who has exchanged a gleeful shimmy up the career ladder for motherhood, and who is now forced to buy her fried chicken from a grease-bucket takeaway. Trashy, flashy, slutty divorcee Edie, who specialises in fluffy, sugar-dusted desserts, which impress in the short term, but ultimately prove to be sickly and empty of nutritional value. Food as psychology, see?

"But that's all a bit subtle for me. I have a honed instinct for these things, and have already gleaned the core lesson of Desperate Housewives. And it's this: people who are obsessed by food, people who can cook, or care about cooking, are messed up, bad, or dead; those that aren't, can't or don't, are fun-loving, human and good. See Mary Alice (waffle maker) - dead. Susan (Teri Hatcher, burner of macaroni cheese) - most sympathetic character by far. Bree (obsessive chef) - murderous and miserable. Lynette (too harassed to fry chicken) - funny, spirited, admirable. I applaud this sentiment."

Other links today:

+ Craig's List London. When did this launch? How did I miss it? The best online classifieds here at last.

+ Tomoko Takahashi at the Serpentine. Thanks for the tip-off Hypatia.

+ David Bryne is in New Zealand. I wanna go, I wanna go!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


"Raw, impassioned and provocative, German drama Head-On lives up to its title in its opening minutes, as angry alcoholic Cahit deliberately drives his car into a wall. This failed suicide attempt brings him together with Sibel, the equally desperate daughter of strict Muslim Turks, who begs Cahit to join her in a marriage of convenience. Soon enough, though, faked feelings turn real in a film that's part comedy, part tragedy and filled with a sense of edgy surprise." BBC review.

Saw this brilliant and hedonistic film last night. Head-On tells the story of two self-destructive Turkish immigrants in working class Hamburg, who meet in a psychiatric hospital and embark on an intense and fraught relationship of emotional resuscitation. A great Goth soundtrack too, featuring the likes of Sisters of Mercy and Depeche Mode.

Tonight we ate at the French restaurant Boulevard Brasserie in the heart of Covent Garden's theatre district. Relaxed and informal, with impeccable service -- they didn't quibble when we wanted to move tables; they didn't rush us between courses, allowing us to chat at leisure; and they even went out to buy a pack of cigarettes for one of us. The decor was a little bistro-twee (lots of mirrors and cane chairs) but the food was simple and fresh.

For starters we had baked goats cheese on a mashed potato cake with a rocket salad, and a duck liver parfait with cherry and madeira compote and toasted brioche. For main courses we had a roast salmon steak with parsley mash and a watercress sauce, also a mixed mushroom risotto with parmesan and truffle oil. I ate the duck confit with cassoulet beans, with the duck meltingly tender and falling off the bone. For desserts it was creme brule and lemon tart. Oh yes, and red wine and complimentary glasses of champagne!

A great evening, catching up on work and families.

Other links today:

+ A taste for violence and death starts young for Colombian boys, writes Martin Amis. "On the streets of Colombia, young boys cripple or murder each other just for showing disrespect or for winning at a game of cards. Is the taste for violence opening up a wound that can never heal?"

+ Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld. "iPod people walk down the street in their own MP3 cocoon, bumping into others, deaf to small social cues, shutting out anyone not in their bubble."

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Some things never change

Have spent this weekend at my parents' home in East Anglia, where it actually snowed hard last night. As usual they have stacked up some chores for me to do, mainly involving an electric drill. Aside from the obligatory DIY, we've been catching up by cooking and eating.

When I was growing up, Sundays were always cooking days. Both my parents worked full-time and so Sundays were considered sacred days to be spent together cooking and eating huge Indian feasts, from simple homemade vegetable samosas to elaborate lamb stews.

Thankfully, some things never change. Today's menu? A mixed vegetable curry with sweet potatoes, green beans, aubergines and red kidney beans; a red lentil dahl with spring onions; spring greens with spicy nuggets made from lentil flour and green chilis; and a lamb mince and spinach stew. The house smells divine.

Links today:

+ "The American military is working on a new generation of soldiers, far different from the army it has. 'They don't get hungry,' said Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon. 'They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.'." The robot soldier is coming (registration required).

+ "A short film that tells you why podcasting can make your life better, and shows you everything you need to know to set up a simple program to have new podcasts downloaded automatically. In only four minutes!" Four minutes about podcasting.

+ The new edition of Vice magazine is devoted to design. "What ever happened to Herb Lubalin, Grapus, Tadanori Yokoo, Ken Adam (the Dr. Stranglelove/James Bond set guy), Kate Gibb, Saul Bass, Shinro Ohtake, Keiji Ito, Willy Fleckhaus, and all those Polish poster artists? Being a designer used to mean you drove a Benz and you could get good drugs. Now it means you own a computer. What the fuck? You start out thinking you're going to blow people's minds with your incredibly unique take on the beauty that surrounds us all, and by the time you actually get your career in motion you're essentially a wedding photographer chained to a desk."

+ Dave Navarro is blogging! "Last night's benefit was just insane. No Doubt were really great of course, as there is nothing that Gwen could do that would suck! She could sing over the sound of nails on a chalkboard and it would be sexy as hell. (No, I'm not saying the band sounds like that, they are all really incredible players.) I caught a few moments of Linkin Park with Jay-Z and I must say it was pretty rockin'." Um, okay.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


"People first of all have to be able to see. In art, there is nothing to understand, absolutely nothing." Joseph Beuys.

I spent my undergraduate years at London's Goldsmiths College, during the stimulating rise of local boys Damien Hirst and Blur, and of the "YBA" (Young British Artist) acronym that was then synonymous with the "Goldsmiths effect".

Most of my friends studied in the Visual Arts department and were taught by Michael Craig-Martin. And though I wasn't studying art, I too was swept along with the creative rush of those times and started painting, photographing and writing.

The artist Joseph Beuys had died several years earlier, but Beuys mania was still rife among the art student body. One of my friends -- a fish out of water in the arts department because he worked in oils on canvas rather than on grand installations -- would rather unfetchingly dress like the German conceptualist, complete with felt hat and waistcoat, and quote such politically ineffectual lines as "To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom" or "Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline". I found Beuys' work -- blocks of lard, piles of felt -- just as tedious.

So a tiny miracle occurred yesterday when I was persuaded to attend the Beuys exhibition at the Tate Modern and came away impressed. The politics were as insignificant as ever, but the alchemical concepts of decay and regeneration represented in works such as his Vitrines and Hearth installations, and in the materials he used -- copper, felt, lard, blood, beeswax -- made a powerfully visceral impression on me this time around. If it were not for the barriers around each installation I would have felt compelled to sink into the mountain of felt, bury my hands in the jars of fat, and run my fingers across the blocks of basalt.

"My sculpture is not fixed and finished. Processes continue in most of them: chemical reactions, fermentations, colour changes, decay, drying up. Everything is in a state of change." Joseph Beuys.

We left the Tate late in the night and struggled to find a place to eat. On a road to Elephant and Castle, we gratefully gave in to the lure of La Dolce Vita's pink neon signage and ended up having a fantastic meal of salami, parma ham and artichoke antipasti for starters, and seafood pappardelle pasta and grilled sea bream for main courses. Our waiters were also the owners who described the making of their delicious tomato sauce in loving detail; and and their friends were eating at adjoining tables.

Related links:

+ "Beuys did not think Germans should evade their past, or be destroyed by it. His art was in many ways deeply nationalist. Drawing on ancient myths and symbols, he revived the Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich and Richard Wagner, a tradition tainted by Nazism, yet which Beuys made vital again for a generation of Germans who were children in or after the war." The Guardian, Wounds of History.

+ "Oddly, there is a kind of beauty here, or beauty's antidote. Looking at the objects gathered in Beuys's vitrines, one realises that they, too, have a calculated aesthetic. One can get used to anything, and even take a kind of pleasure in it - in the various whitenesses of fat, the rust on a tin, the residue that's left inside it, the chemistry of decay." The Guardian, The antidote to beauty.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Holy Girl

Saw Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel's sensual movie La Nina Santa last night at the Ritzy in Brixton.

A complex yet understated and oblique portrayal of a 16 year old girl's erotic and religious awakening. The object of her affection is a middle aged doctor, who is attending a medical conference at the hotel managed by her mother, and who first insinuates himself on the young girl by furtively pressing himself up against her behind. Her religious devotion is such that her growing passion for the doctor manifests itself in the need to save his soul, and her seductive mission brings him constantly out in a panic of cold sweat.

An erotic, yet subtle mood piece which explores the taboo of adult-child sexual attraction without sensationalism or blame.

Afterwards, we headed round the corner to Fujiyama for vegetable dumplings, spinach ohitashi (half-steamed spinach in a light dressing, topped with toasted sesame seeds, fried shallots and spring onion), a steaming bowl of ramen noodles, and yasai katsu don (supposedly courgettes, sweet potatoes, green and red peppers coated in Japanese breadcrumbs and deep-fried, yet the only vegetable mine seemed to consist of was red pepper!). Despite this, it was another great meal in this fantastic noodle bar with blood red walls.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The God Gene

The Telegraph has an interesting article about the discovery of a gene purportedly responsible for spiritual belief. In an analysis of 2000 DNA samples, American molecular geneticist, Dr Dean Hamer (the guy who also discovered the discredited "gay gene"), concluded that people's stated ability to believe in a "higher spiritual force" or spiritual connection with the universe is down to greater levels of VMAT2 - "a vesicular monoamine transporter that regulates the flow of mood-altering chemicals in the brain". Social environment and heredity have less relevance, apparently.

Of course, as The New York Times points out (registration required), the genetic predisposition toward religious belief is not new. In the 1970s, sociologist Edward Wilson argued that such an inclination could have evolutionary advantages, and there are oft-sited studies that show that twins separated at birth have similar levels of spirituality and regular churchgoers live longer than non-regular churchgoers.

The major problem for scientists with Hamer's God Gene theory is that it hasn't been replicated and his analysis is largely speculative. Predictably, some in the religious establishment have also been up in arms over the research:

"The Rev Dr John Polkinghorne, a fellow of the Royal Society and a Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral, said: 'The idea of a god gene goes against all my personal theological convictions. You can't cut faith down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking.'"

Though such criticism overlooks the fact that Hamer's findings do not answer the question "Is there a God?" but rather "Why do we believe in God?", there is, of course, much to be sceptical about the theory. I'm fascinated, however, and am looking forward to more vigorous research into the biological basis for spiritual belief.

Related link:

+ The God gene: How faith is hardwired into our genes. The book by Dean Hamer.

Other links today:

+ Roll up, roll up, get your Gmail invites here

+ The tagging of life. Scientists are to establish a giant catalogue of life - to, in effect, "barcode" every species on Earth, from tiny plankton to the mighty blue whale.

+ Master tasking. When planning out your project, don't just map out the smaller tasks, getting side-tracked into the "trivial" steps, forgetting the overarching goal.

+ An architect's wet-cement dream, or building skyscrapers on the moon.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Lazy days

Spent a very chilled weekend doing lots of little things. Yesterday I worked all day, but as I was working at home it was a much less fraught experience, punctuated by lots of yummy nibbles and naps. In the evening we cooked and ate in (chicken breasts in cherry tomato sauce, new potatoes and salad), then slobbed out in front of the box (Secretary on DVD). This morning was a lie in and a leisurely flick through the papers (nothing too taxing, just the review, style and sports sections) and then off to a childrens' birthday party in St Albans in the afternoon (lots of hyper children and zoned out parents). Now I'm up for an early night. Lovely.

Links today:

+ Arthur Miller passed away and there have been moving tributes all weekend. From the blogosphere, here's Hypatia Avenue's response.

+ Star wants out of the Milky Way. Astronomers discover a star traveling over 1.5 million mph - fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of our galaxy.

+ Extinct Native American tribe finds second wind. Descendants of a small tribe in the US are revitalising their culture through an online video game.

+ Micromechanical robots powered by real muscle tissue. Nanotech researchers have built tiny self-assembling machines that even grow their own muscles from cells taken from living animals.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Burger and chips

Tonight I went to one of those dinner parties where everything comes together effortlessly: where the wine flows, the conversation meanders from one thought-provoking topic to the other, the guests all get on even though they don't all know each other, and the food has you down on your knees begging for more. Thick, crispy, homemade chips; homemade organic beef burgers; guacamole; tomato and coriander salsa; green salad; and an apple crumble, made with Pink Ladies and brown sugar, so divine I actually, for once, left my vanilla ice cream on the side.

Comfort food fit for a dinner party due to the quality of the ingredients, the attention to detail and the great company.

Links today:

+ Making memories stick. Some moments become lasting recollections while others just evaporate. The reason may involve the same processes that shape our brains to begin with.

+ Sex and the single robot. Kim Jong-Hwan, the director of the ITRC-Intelligent Robot Research Centre, has developed a series of artificial chromosomes that, he says, will allow robots to feel lusty, and could eventually lead to them reproducing. He says the software, which will be installed in a robot within the next three months, will give the machines the ability to feel, reason and desire.

+ Couch potato contentment. Most people are happy being unfit and overweight, a survey reveals.

+ Robot wars. Robotics and the future of warfare. "Within 25 years, non-biological intelligence will match human intelligence in areas in which humans now excel, principally in pattern recognition. It will combine these abilities with the inherent advantages of machine intelligence, such as speed, easy sharing of knowledge and skills."

+ Nuclear now! It's time to stop global warming. The solution is reliable, renewable, and affordable: clean, green atomic energy.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

High maintenance grape

Yahoo has a great story about the sales of Pinot Noir wine soaring 22% on the back of the movie Sideways. I saw Sideways again tonight and must admit I too was a little wooed by neurotic failed author Miles' evangelisation of the subtleties of the Pinot grape. "Why are you so into Pinot?" he asks of the gorgeous Maya. What a chat up line.
"People come in and immediately say, 'Where's the pinot noir?'" said Steve Villani, manager of Columbus Circle Liquors in Manhattan. "After a while, we began to ask them if they saw the movie, and they laugh out loud and say, 'yes'."

It's also funny to hear how California wineries, travel specialists and even wine auction houses are benefiting from the Sideways buzz:

", which auctions rare and hard-to-find bottlings, has begun offering a collection of wines featured in the movie -- from Sea Smoke Cellars 2002 Botella pinot noir to Miles' treasured 1961 Cheval Blanc. (Bids for the Cheval Blanc start at $750.)"

My favourite quote from the movie is just before Jack and Miles double date two women they've met on the road:

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.
Miles: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!

Still priceless on my second viewing.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


"I dream, therefore I exist."

Tonight we watched August Strindberg's wonderful expressionistic drama, A Dream Play, at the National Theatre's Cottesloe. Born out of Strindberg's despair over the collapse of his (third) marriage, the play distorts time and space to produce a fantasy dream sequence of the pain and joy, memories and fears of a man in the throes of mental meltdown: the horror of his teeth falling out, the wistfulness of watching his mother washing her hair, the terror of being caught near-naked on an operatic stage, the frustration of being stuck in an infinite loop of unrequited love. Characters and scenes come into focus for fleeting moments only and you begin to realise that it doesn't matter which is real and which is dream life.

The effect is both ecstatic and terrifying, heightened by the black-painted intimacy of the theatre hall and by the fact that we were just three rows back from the stage. Though such spatio-temporal suspensions are narrative conventions now, the ideas were considered revolutionary at the time of Strindberg's writing in 1901 and foreshadowed Freud's theories about the divisions between the conscious and unconscious.

Strindberg was an amazingly productive and prolific autodidact. He was a dramatist, an essayist, a painter, a photographer, and even an alchemist, and I can't wait for the Tate Modern's retropective of his paintings coming soon.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Little devil

Went walking on Hampstead Heath today and met this little devil on our travels.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Landscapes of ice and snow

Mariele Neudecker is perhaps best known for her miniature landscapes - most frequently evocations of mountain ranges - in glass tanks. Her works are strange and disorienting subversions of the paintings of such German Romantics as Casper David Friedrich whose mystical studies of the natural world have obviously inspired her. The effect is an interplay of idealised landscapes and the actual reality of experiencing them.

Last night we watched Neudecker's film, Winterreise: A Winter's Journey at Tate Britain. The film traverses the line of latitude 60 degrees north, crossing a hypnotic and haunting snow- and ice-covered Europe, from the Shetland Islands to St Petersburg.

This visual journey is accompanied by the beautiful and melancholic Winterreise - Franz Schubert's great song cycle which charts the psychological journey of a lover travelling from the door of the woman who rejects him, on a train out of the city, across a snow-clad terrain of plains and deserted villages, trying to remember better days.

I found it quite mesmerising, though the effect was so meditative that perhaps Friday night was not the best time to have seen it. It sedated my mood for the rest of the night, though the fabulous Turkish feast of crusty bread, smoked aubergine puree, stuffed olives, feta and spinach borek, lamb casserole, baklava, rose ice cream, mint tea and robust Anatolian red wine at Kazan in Pimlico afterwards lifted my spirits considerably. The food was fabulously fresh and each dish was distinctly flavoured. And the bar attached to the side was suitably snug, dark and romantic.

Today was spent clothes shopping on Oxford Street: a stressful frenzy induced by a comment from a friend who pointed out that he had only ever seen me in two skirts, both denim, which made me realise I have to get out of my clothes rut. I actually have lots of clothes in my wardrobe, but they were all bought a few years ago and I've grown bored of all of them save these two oft-worn denim skirts. So now I have two more - pretty, fluttery, patterned skirts not suitable for winter at all, but what the hell. At least I now don't have to go clothes shopping again for another two years. Phew.

It's Saturday night and I'm staying in - snuggled up in my duvet and regressing to childhood by watching the first season of The Waltons on DVD.

"They built their home on the timeless mountain that bears their name. They built their lives on even stronger stuff: the bedrock of family."

Yup, I actually got seduced into buying this on the back of this quote from the DVD cover. Sad, sad, sad!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Make Poverty History

During lunch today, I made a mad dash to Trafalgar Square to join thousands of others demanding that the G7 finance ministers cancel all unpayable third world debt. Nelson Mandela also spoke and I cursed my cheap zoom camera for not being able to get a good shot of him. There was a real sense among those around me that this could be the last time we get the chance to hear him speak live in England again.
"Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural," he said. "It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists there is no true freedom."

He urged rich nations to make significant steps towards dropping the debts of poorer countries, currently costing them around $40 billion a year. He ended his speech by handing over the symbol of the Make Poverty History campaign - a white band - to five children, saying, "Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom."

A very moving day.

+ Full text of Mandela's speech
+ My photos from the event

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Kicking terrorist ass

Today I'd had an intense and tiring day at work and wanted only to sit back and be entertained this evening. So we went to see Team America: World Police - a movie Ebert has described as "an equal opportunity offender". That it was: a movie that manages to caricature bleeding heart liberals, American foreign policy and Middle Eastern desperados in one, gloriously swell swoop.

I laughed at the vacuous Americans blowing up terrorists and destroying the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre in the process; I roared at the Middle Eastern vocabulary that consisted only of "Derka derka derka, Muhammad Jihad"; and I was already crying by the time the North Korean leader nearly succeeds in unleashing "9/11 times 2,356". And surely the bedroom scenes between two of the puppets should spark a whole new genre of marionette porn online.

Ambiguously political, criminally satirical, insanely immature. I had a great time. Ramen soup and whiskey sours in Chinatown topped off a wonderful night.

Related link:
+ Memorable lines from Team America

Other links today:

+ Web inventor is 'Greatest Britain'. "Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the web in the late 1980s, said he was just 'in the right place at the right time'."

+ Are blogs journalism's new wave, or just public forums for the bored? According to this writer, "it is safe to assume that most blogs are not worth the cyberspace they occupy. The bulk are boring or offensive self-indulgences produced by those with axes to grind, prejudice to spew, porn to peddle or without the ability to get past the gatekeepers at newspapers, magazines, book publishers and edited online publications."

+ The art of seeing without sight. "The painter is Esref Armagan. And he is here in Boston to see if a peek inside his brain can explain how a man who has never seen can paint pictures that the sighted easily recognise - and even admire. He paints houses and mountains and lakes and faces and butterflies, but he's never seen any of these things. He depicts colour, shadow and perspective, but it is not clear how he could have witnessed these things either. How does he do it?" One researcher believes that you can arrive at the same mental picture via different senses.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The first step

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Maybe it's because the new year traditionally brings new goals for people and organisations to reach for, but I've noticed several articles on the internet recently on procrastination. They've made me reflect upon my own personal tools for getting things done. Not all of them work for me all of the time, but some of them do and that's good enough for me:

- Focus on the small things. I've found that focussing on the ultimate goal debilitates and makes me too intimidated to actually tackle it. So once I've strategised a project and worked out the smaller steps I need to take to complete it, I disassociate myself from the longterm goal and hone in on the smaller ones.

- Don't sweat it. Perfectionism always prevents me from starting something, so I try and remember that most things can be fixed after completion.

- Get organised. Before I leave the office, I try and set my desk up with all the things I need to get the next day's tasks done. This includes a project's to-do list, but also books and documents I will need to consult, and lists of people I will need to contact (including email addresses and phone numbers). I'll also try and remember to shortcut the files I will be working on to my computer's desktop so they're the first things I see when I log on.

- Don't be a completist. By this I mean, there's no need for me to finish something by the end of the day if I don't have to. I find it easier to begin my day with an on-going task than start a new one fresh. This also allows my subsonscious a chance to work on it while I'm doing something completely different in the evening.

- Get rid of distractions. That means keeping my Glamour and .Net magazines in the bottom drawer, along with articles I've printed out that will help me on another step of the project but not this one. It also means, wherever possible, keeping my personal and work emails separate so that the first thing I do in the morning is not to plan my social life but to get stuck in to work. I'll also switch off my Outlook for an hour or two.

- Pre-schedule fun time. I work faster and better knowing I've got something to look forward to that night. Thanks Pavlov!

- Pre-schedule slack time. If I know I can go for a walk, browse the internet or do some shopping during lunch or mid-afternoon break, then I'm less likely to do it during work time.

- 30 minute rule. If I can't get started on something, I coax myself into working on it for just 30 minutes. More often than not, I don't even realise the 30 minutes have passed. If I do, then no matter - at least I got 30 minutes of work on the task done.

Here's a funny movie to distract you:
Tales of mere existence: Procrastination (Quicktime movie)

Great productivity tips:

+ Getting back to work: A personal productivity toolkit by Mark Taw. "Often distractions are things you want to do some time in the future. To get rid of these, just write them down. I always carry a notebook with me that I can write these things down in. The notebook also serves to focus my thoughts when I have a spare moment and need to figure out what to do next. By keeping everything in here, any part of my brain that was worried about what I have to do goes away. The guarantee that I will look at the notebook and do what I wrote down keeps me from having to think about it."

+ Overcoming procrastination. "Don't worry about finishing anything. Just focus on what you can start now. If you do this enough times, you'll eventually be starting on the final piece of the task, and that will lead to finishing."

+ How to get more done in less time. "Studies have shown that the average office worker does only 1.5 hours of actual work per day. The rest of the time is spent socializing, taking coffee breaks, eating, engaging in non-business communication, shuffling papers, and doing lots of other non-work tasks. The average full-time office worker doesn't even start doing real work until 11:00am and begins to wind down around 3:30pm." Yikes!

Procrastination is a habit, and so is productivity.