Category Archives: Living in London

The Social Network/Travelling Light

This weekend I saw a play about film and a film about social networks, which seemed to fit together nicely.

Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, directed by Nicholas Hytner. As this is the team behind His Dark Materials, my feeling was that it couldn’t really go wrong. And it didn’t. There’s something quite intellectually satisfying about examining one medium through another, requiring you as it does to think about the characteristics of each in relation to the other. The set was, once again at the National, absolutely stunning: its 3D representation of the shtetl in which the play was set only seemed to exaggerate the 2D nature of the films that we saw. The presence of live actors reacting with joy and wonder to what were very old fashioned cinemactic images reminded us just how exciting and magical cinema must have been to its early viewers. The friend I went with commented at the end that there didn’t seem to be much energy emanating from the audience to the actors – not words you would ever utter exiting a film theatre. My (well-documented!) love of theatre does come from that immediacy – a performance once given is lost forever, and each is unique, depending on the mix on the night of the cast, crew and audience. This was all made very much more obvious by watching a depiction of early pioneers of film producing such a staged (haha) experience.

And then on Sunday I watched The Social Network, about the creation of Facebook, which was a lot better than a) I thought it would be and b) it could have been. Again, a strong script and strong director at the helm are fundamental, and a film by the writer of the West Wing and the director of Seven is likely to be a good bet. I have seen other films about computing or in which computing is a main element that handle much less well the fact that watching people type things on a screen doesn’t make great cinema. Music seems to matter a lot in film, more than in theatre, maybe because there are fewer ways to create an atmosphere in film – lighting, set etc are going to be less immediate for a film audience, who might be watching it at home with all the lights on, in a film theatre in the dark, or nowadays, on their phone on a train. So music becomes a much more important tool. And Trent Reznor’s soundtrack was amazing – atmospheric but not intrusive (I only just realised it got an Oscar, so clearly it’s not just me that thinks so). A central point for me about the film was Zuckerberg’s certainty that what he had was going to change the way we thought about a whole range of things. Eduardo trawling Madison Avenue for a few hundred thousand of old-style ad money while Mark was signing venture capital deals for half a billion chimes with the truism that Facebook isn’t free, we just don’t pay money for it. Coming as it does in a week when Google do seem to have jumped the privacy shark, it was useful to have that message reinforced.

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Off-topic: Well done Greenwich Council

It’s easy to take to Twitter or a blog when something is getting you down (you know who you are…Southeastern Rail) so I thought I would buck the trend by noting when something has gone right. I left my house yesterday morning (bin day in our street) to be confronted by clothes, shoes and bags strewn across the pavement – someone doing a little light fly-tipping. I went back in and went onto the Greenwich Council website and reported it via the online form. The automatic email I got said they would deal within 3 working days, but within 10 minutes I had a reply from someone saying they would send out a van to clear it away. When I went back outside I realised that whoever was responsible for the mess had also nicked one of my wheelie bins. Back inside, to call Greenwich Council and order a new one. All sorted, and he was very apologetic that it would take 2 weeks to get it to me. Within 15 minutes all was sorted, and when I got home last night, they had come by and taken away the mess. Good on you Greenwich. All that and weekly bin collections as well ūüôā

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Off-topic: Thames Clippers – what are they good for?

Just one in my occasional series of London commuting hell posts – and inspired by Jon Worth’s travelogues!

I work in Westminster, and last night I was going to Greenwich for a concert at the Royal Naval College. I thought, I know, I’ll get the Thames Clipper. I would be keen to use the river to commute regularly, if it wasn’t so expensive, as I live near the river and my office is near Westminster Pier. So it seemed a good opportunity to try it out. I looked up the times on the Thames Clipper website and found one went at 18.10 which fitted perfectly with my timing for the evening. I got to Westminster Pier at about 18.00 to find there was nowhere to buy a ticket. OK, I thought, I’m sure they sell them on the boat. I went down to the pier and couldn’t quite work out which boarding point I was supposed to be at, as there were two for Greenwich and neither mentioned Thames Clippers. I waited till 18.20, but no boat came, though I could see two that looked like the Thames Clippers waiting over at the London Eye pier. There was no-one around to ask, no information about timetables etc and the pier was dark and deserted. So I went and got the tube.

Transport in London is undoubtedly a nightmare, and with¬†us in the South-east been forced to depend on¬†Southeastern and the Jubilee line, we have our fair share of problems. The river offers a solution, but on last night’s experience, I won’t be trying that again. The final irony was that as I arrived at North Greenwich and went to get a bus to Greenwich town centre, one of the giant screens outside the O2 was covered in an advert for…Thames Clippers.

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Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both¬†informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

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One Way Ticket?

There’s been a bit of grumbling about the putative ticketing policy for the 2010 [doh! that should of course be 2012] Olympics, with claims that tickets can’t be reserved for Londoners because of the EU’s competition policy. It’s kind of ironic, for several reasons.

1) The full ticketing policy hasn’t even been announced yet.

2) The EU policy being referred to is based on complaints from previous big sporting occasions around Europe, where fans, including from the UK, have complained that they were discriminated against buying tickets for events such as the European Championships, or the World Cup.

3) A number of tickets are reserved for “the Olympic family” whatever that means – a reservation that appears to have been 40% in Sydney. I think that and the issue of agencies buying up tickets will be a much bigger problem than Europe-wide rules on access – and in the case of the agencies, they’d get the tickets even if there were a UK-only allocation.

Reading the comments on the BBC article about this, some very good points are made about how exactly competition law would affect this.¬†I’m checking out the validity of some of those points and will add something when I find that out.

I live in what will be an Olympic borough (Greenwich) and I look forward to going and watching archery and shooting and modern pentathlon and whatever else will be there, and I suspect that I won’t be fighting with hordes of people over from France or Portugal or wherever. Certainly my experience at the Rugby World Cup in France in 2007 was that the overwhelming majority of spectators were from France. But I really appreciated the fact that I could book my tickets from Belgium, with no problem.

I hope I’m wrong, but let’s remember this discussion if and when there are negative media stories about empty seats at Olympic events…

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Moving on up

Just had a discussion on Twitter with @npanayotopoulos and @kosmopolit about the problems faced when someone moved from one European country to another. Moving to the UK, you are often required to provide referees to rent – how do you get those if you lived in your own home, or your landlord doesn’t speak English? I have had my own problems getting credit because I haven’t got 3 years of addresses in the UK. Would really like to hear what else has come up. These are the nitty gritty issues of being in the EU and are in their way far more important to many people than the intricacies of the co-decision procedure as amended by Lisbon!

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Thank you

I was at the Foreign Press Association media awards last night. The FPA is the organisation for all non-UK journalists working in the UK, and has been around since 1888 (same as Celtic Football Club…) which makes it the oldest such organisation in the world, they say. The awards recognised excellence in UK foreign reporting as well as the best reporting done by FPA members.¬†As media outlets cut staff,¬†this office’s role in liaising with press from around the world, not just the UK, becomes ever more important, as staff will often get cut from Brussels before¬†London. Talking to people last night I realised that¬†it has become a small but significant part of what we do.

¬†There were some really interesting issues among the prize-winners, including corruption in WFP deliveries in Somalia and abuse of women in Chechnya. The overall winner was Martin Hickman of the Independent writing about palm oil. I’ve sat on juries giving two journalism prizes this year and in both instances they were given to journalists writing for the Independent. Martin won last night. This does beg the question: where is the Independent going wrong? It clearly has journalists of quality, writing on issues of interest and merit. So why does it have the biggest losses in readership of any newspaper? Answers on a postcard.

The keynote speech was given by Prince Felipe of Asturias, the Crown Prince of Spain. He highlighted the intricacies of the UK/Spanish relationship. I have to say that I did not know that Spanish companies invest more in the UK than in the whole of Latin America. He said that Spanish is the third language of the internet (not a huge surprise) but what was surprising was that in terms of number of pages (not users) the second language is…German!

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The Mighty Quins

I had my first taste of season-ticket-holding Rugby League this weekend, when I headed to the Twickenham Stoop to watch Harlequins absolutely walk all over Warrington Wolves – 60-8 was the final score and 4 of those came from a try that was an individual run longer than the length of the pitch. Good stuff. Given that my sporting event recent past has been World Cups and various games at the Millennium stadium, I seriously over-estimated the crowd – max 3000, pretty much all of whom were in the one stand. But there was loads of noise, and a great atmosphere. Certainly a family game and a much less intimidating atmosphere than the last football game I was at. So I’m looking forward to a summer of Rugby League! One thing though – why have Quins nicked and rewritten the worst chant ever? “We’re Leeds Rhinos, we’re Leeds Rhinos” is now done as “We’re Quins RL, we’re Quins RL”. They did have loads of good chants, so why nick the worst one ever in any sport?! I particularly liked “can we play you every week” and “are you Salford in disguise”? Not highly original, but still funny.

Back to work today and the big boss was in town, Commission President Jos√© Manuel Barroso. We organised a press lunch for him, with some of the leading political and economic commentators, which was really interesting. Best bit for me was the team spirit – Nik getting the catering sorted at very short notice, David heading to Number 10 very early this morning and all the work he did on getting these august people along, Anastasia the intern happily jumping in to do rubbish jobs like taking coats and photocopying, Albena dealing with all the daily work of the office as we all ran around sorting out last minute arrangements. It’s a great feeling to have such a good team. And Emilia came back from maternity leave – it’s lovely to have her back. Now we just need Jen to come back from holiday next week and we’ll be at full strength.

Terrible news from Madagascar. I have a particular interest there, as my father was British Ambassador during the last crisis, when Ravalomanana was elected and there was gunfire and explosions on Tana… It’s like history repeating itself, the mayor of Tana takes on the President. Though the difference this time is that the president was elected. It’s such a shame for that country, which is the most amazing place I have ever been. I’m hopefully going to the next meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society on 1 April, so will find out more then.

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Come home

I was at the Royal Court Theatre¬†last night, at the invitation of their Development department. I saw two things – Over There by Mark Ravenhill and Wall with David Hare. What a night – one of the best I’ve had since moving to London.

The two pieces were very different. The first is about identical twins separated by the Berlin Wall and then brought back together. I have to admit I went with a little trepidation, as I saw Handbag by the same writer in Brussels about 7 years ago and thoroughly loathed it. But it’s a good job I didn’t let that put me off. Because Over There, directed by Ravenhill and one of the Royal Courts resident directors, Ramin Gray, is a masterclass. What I love about it as an art form is its teamwork – no one person can do it alone. The director has to have a clear vision, but he or she can – indeed should – draw on the creativity, innovation and vision of the team around him or her. In this case the designer Johannes Schutz had done something amazing. The stage was a box – no wings, nowhere to go. Obvious symbolism in that, but it left the actors very exposed. They were wonderful – Harry and Luke Treadaway. They look like each other, naturally, but they were just different enough not to mess too much with the audiences heads! Because there was enough head-messing going on as it was. I left feeling challenged, invigorated, excited, slightly disgusted…but most of all as much in love with theatre as I ever have been. It was a sterling example of how theatre retains that power to shock, question, engage. It’s only on for another week, but I would highly recommend it if you get a chance to go. On the train home I picked up thelondonpaper and theire reviewer gave it 5 stars out of 5. I have to agree.

The second piece was totally different. It was billed as a “reading” by David Hare of a piece about the wall being built in Israel. It was directed by Stephen Daldry. It was just a middle-aged bloke in a white shirt and black jeans standing on a stage and reading. Though of course it wasn’t. The touch of the director was barely discernible, yet undeniably there, probably most of all in the moments when Hare wasn’t reading from the sheaf of pages in his hand, which he let fall around him as the piece moved on, but rather addressing the audience directly and seamlessly returning to his “reading”. Of course, with Hare (I directed The Blue Room as few years ago in Brussels) the words are king and are his strength. I saw The Year of Magical Thinking at the National a while ago, performed by Vanessa Redgrave and directed by him, and though it was a tour de force performance from her, I found it far too static as a piece, as well as 15 minutes too long – it had reached what seemed to be a natural end, and then seemed to limp on for a bit more. And yet last night, even though it was the same thing – one person on a stage – it didn’t seem static and it certainly didn’t feel too long. After the privilege of seeing Michael Nyman playing Michael Nyman, how great now to¬†see David Hare acting David Hare. This is the compensation, really, for having left behind all my friends and theatre involvement in Brussels. It was like coming home.

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Nothing else matters

Like I think pretty much everyone in the whole wolrd except Michael O’Leary, I couldn’t believe the reports that Ryanair are thinking about charging for use of in-flight bogs. Is that actually legal? But there is a good side – the endless creativity and humour that people can bring to bear to these kind of situations – look at this great blog post. Also enjoyed Gideon Rachman’s piece in the FT on losing his euroscepticism (not that I ever had him pegged as one!) I also love the fact that¬†I found out about both of these via Twitter. (and they’re easier to find when you’re not been bombarded by Tweets from Stephen Fry on a donkey somewhere…)

Reason for the title is that i saw Metallica last night at the O2. Great stuff, proper old-fashioned rock, with huge flames and lasers and generally ROCK silliness. I also realised that I clearly play my bass with my legs far too close together and my guitar far too high up my body. Not like Robert Trujillo at all:

What a rock bassist should look like

What a rock bassist should look like

Loads of stories today in that white noise way we sometimes have to do things. A new campaign to highlight the iniquities of the gender pay gap is being launched – an issue that really needs to be highlighted, as it’s only going to get worse with the recession, as the types of jobs that women are generally in (part-time, services) are among the first to go. Here in the rep we’re hosting an event bringing together the new round of Life+, environmental projects financed by the EU budget. More about that later, either here or on our website, as our new intern, Anastasia, is following the event.

Lots of admin on my desk though – tenders for media montoring, planning documents for our internal use and Brussels, and recruitment to replace Greta who left last week. Best get back to it.

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