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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Filed under Culture, Digital/social media, Living in London

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 🙂

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Filed under Living in London, Personal

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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Filed under EC in UK, Living in London, Media, Personal, Youth

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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Filed under Living in London, Sports

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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Filed under European news, Living in London

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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