17 October 2006

Bad Squirrel

My friend Aran sent me these lovely pictures today. I thought I'd do a little investigating. The Guardian has this to say:
Squirrels in south London could have become addicted to crack cocaine, say residents of Brixton, who suggest the rodents have dug up drugs buried by dealers or nibbled residues of crack on pipes and vials discarded by addicts. ... The Guardian began its search for the freebasing fiend near the local cinema. "They used to hang out in the little park in front of the Ritzy, twitching ... dancing to music only they could hear and generally creating a malevolent ambience," Londoner Rik Abel wrote in his blog. Ritzy regulars were less sure. "I've never seen one," said a staff member. "But there might be crack foxes around too."
First hand reports here and here.

16 October 2006

James Bond, Pinewood Studios

Just a quick post to make Frank jealous. Pinewood have been celebrating their 70th Anniversary with a series of screenings of films that were shot at the studio. I took Anna out there after work one night to watch The Spy Who Loved Me, the best of the Roger Moore Bond films. It was clearly an original print (scratchy in places), but still a lot of fun. The free beer certainly didn't hurt.

14 October 2006

Weekly roundup

Let's see, what have we been up to. No London walks or big trips recently...

We've actually had a pretty administrative week or so. We finally got a phoneline and an internet connection. Then we registered with our local doctor's clinic (takes two separate visits - of course during business hours). Then there was a mains burst and we lost water one morning. (I had a bath in about 3 inches of boiling water. Yikes!) Then the water came back, but we couldn't get hot water in the kitchen. (Fortunately, our shower has a separate heater.) So I had to stay in, again, for a plumber visit. Turns out the water failure had allowed air to get into the pipes. Wasn't hard to fix - the plumber just held his hand over the faucet and ran the cold tap. This forced water back into the other pipes. Easy peasy, two minutes, and £115 thank you very much.

The news keeps telling us that it's going to get colder - and it did, briefly. One week the temperatures dropped to about 14 - 16 degrees and it rained a lot. But now it's hot and sunny again. Looks like the famous London winter is greatly delayed this year. Hooray!

We've started planning our holidays for the next couple of years. I booked the tickets for our triumphal return to New Zealand next year - will be nice to see veryone, if only for a week or two. We will stop in Singapore on the way back, to break up that awful 24 hour flight to the northern hemisphere. However, our next holiday is a long weekend in Amsterdam a fortnight from now. We have bought a travel guide, and are reading up. Otherwise we're still trying to decide where to go for Christmas. All the nice hot places are very expensive... We've already given up on the Caribbean, but Morocco or Tunisia might be in the works.

Finally did our big "Squirrel Hunt" on Sunday. Hyde's Park (probably the best hunting grounds) was full up with marathon runners, so we went to Regent's Park instead. Very pretty grounds, grass, trees, a big pond. We found some squirrels, but I have to say they were'nt very bold. I think there are not so many tourists here, so they're not trained to take food from people. When we approached they would nip up a tree, and then hang there and regard us with suspicion.

They have a neat trick where they actually face down, and poke their head out. They then freeze in this position, as though you can't see them. (This is very similar to what I've seen lizards in Australia and Fiji do.) The best thing is, this means they're sitting still and you can take pictures of them. Plus it looks cute.

When they're on the ground, however, they're grey lightning. I have lots of photos of grass, with what looks a zig-zag streak of grey through the middle. Grr. I'm posting the best of my efforts - even these are still reasonable blurry. They are gorgeous when they move, though. They don't run, they bound, like an animated slinky. Every now and then they would burst into a little fit as they tried to bury or unearth an acorn - apparently by bouncing up and down on the spot. Enjoy!

05 October 2006

Lunch with Gordon Ramsay

Well, not really. I did however spend all of my lunchtime standing around in the cold waiting to meet Gordon at a book signing for his autobiography Humble Pie. Fortunately I bought my copy beforehand, and could at least read it in the queue. It’s very interesting so far – he certainly had a crappy upbringing.

Sadly, I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and the temperature has dropped sharply here in London. In my defence, it’s still hot in the sun. It’s just that Piccadilly Circus doesn’t get any sun because the enclosing buildings are too high. Oh well. At least I was commended on my bravery by staff and fellow devotees. (Although Gordon later asked me why I couldn’t afford sleeves.)

Anyway, we got let in eventually, only to join another queue (VIPs? Bookclub members?) for another half hour. Finally Gordon appeared in a puff of smoke and whiff of sulphur, and the journos proceeded to fire off about one googolplex photos in the space of a few minutes.

At last it was our turn. He was very friendly, cracking jokes (mostly with the girls, but who can blame him) and allowing lots of photos. He asked me whether 'that horrible Paul Holmes' was still in New Zealand. I replied that he was, and that he is a little goblin (though I suppose I should have mentioned how his career vanished overnight in 2005).

Gordon put some swears in the dedication for me. Nice one!

The Old Bull & Bush

There's a little nook
down in old Hampstead Town,
You know the place it does one great renown,
Often with my sweetheart on a bright Summers day,
To the little pub my footsteps will stray,
If she hesitates when she looks at the sign,
Promptly I whisper, "Now do not decline."

"Down at the Old Bull and Bush"
- sung by Florrie Forde (1920s).

We popped into this pub last night for a drink with Jan. Originally a farmhouse built in 1645, it was first licensed in 1721 and became a music hall in 1867 (hence the song). I understand that the interior was recently redecorated, much to the vocal complaints of pub fanciers. (The internet is full of less than glowing reviews.)

For our own part, we thought it was pleasant (if a bit Ikea) and it did have a great beer selection (though European, not English). Food was rubbish, but the bargirls were pretty. Not bad – certainly the best pub within Golders Green – but it’s probably worth making the extra effort to nip over to Hampstead.

Come, come, come and make eyes at me
down at the Old Bull and Bush,
Da, da, da, da, da,
Just let me hold your hand dear,
Do, do, do, do, do have a drink or two
down at the Old Bull and Bush

Avebury and Lacock

Went on another London Walks daytrip, this time with Jan and Rebecca. First stop, Avebury. The site of a large henge and several stone circles dating back to 3400 BC – older, and four times larger, than Stonehenge.

Surrounded by huge circular henge – 21m wide, 11m deep, 1.35 km in circumference – was an Outer Circle of 98 sarsen standing stones, some weighing in excess of 40 tons. Nearer the middle of the monument were two other, separate stone circles. A single large monolith, 5.5m high, stood in the centre along with an alignment of smaller stones.

Although it is one of the finest and largest Neolithic monuments in Europe, it’s ‘wow’ value has been severely diminished by the village and roading built right through the middle during the intervening centuries.

In fact, there was a concerted effort in the 16th century to destroy the site, as it was believed to be evil due to its pagan origin. Many of the original stones were broken up and used for building materials, or toppled and buried at the site. Famously, the henge got its own back when one stone fell on and killed a barber. His body wasn’t exhumed until 1938.

Nowadays, among the sheep-laden pasture only 27 stones of the Outer Circle survive, many of which were dug up and re-erected by an enthusiast, Alexander Keiller, in the 1930s. Concrete pylons mark the former locations of the missing stones and it is likely that more stones are buried on the site.

I should add, however, that visiting during a lightning storm and torrential rain really adds some impact!

After a thorough soaking, we sought shelter and hot victuals at the Red Lion. The only pub in Avebury, it is also a famous haunting ground!

The story goes that during the 17th century, the inn was run by Florrie and her soldier husband. When he was called away to war, Florrie subsequently took a lover. One night her husband returned unexpectedly from battle and discovered his wife's infidelity. In a fit of rage he shot dead his rival and slit his wife's throat. He then threw her body down the inn's well and sealed it with a huge boulder.

We had a look in the well (it has now been converted into just another table – albeit with a glass lid) but didn’t see anything spooky.

However, I did find this photograph on the net. Taken by a local journalist in 2004 (while accompanying a group of “Paranormal Site Investigators”), it apparently depicts a bald man with a bloody face. It looks to me like Maynard Keenan with marker pen scribbles. Was Tool visiting Avebury that weekend?

After an exerting morning, we had better luck with the weather at Lacock village (pronounced Lay-cock). Owned almost in its entirety by the National Trust, its unspoiled appearance has made it a preferred filming location – notably for the excellent 1995 BBC Pride & Prejudice and the Harry Potter films (as Hogsmeade). I bought some terrible fudge from the National Trust shop, and Anna picked up another fridge magnet.

We also visited the Lacock Abbey, where the classroom and cloister scenes of Potter were also filmed. Currently The Other Boleyn Sister is being filmed there. We saw some sets and film equipment, but no sign of Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman or Eric Bana (damn!).

Extra pics: [1] The girls in Lacock Abbey cloister [2] Hogsmeade