31 January, 2007

Flickr hacks - Flickr Leech

A very nice little tool (if you flickr) - flickrleech, lets you view 200 thumbs per page, you can sort based on all the ususal metrics, keywords, "interestingness", username etc.

It looks a lot better than the usual interface (imho), there is a nag screen to click but after that it all works fine... ;)

30 January, 2007

Kings Place, York Way - Basic Structure in place

Kings Place #1
Well, here we go, another update on the "Kings Place" building project on York Way in Islington/Kings Cross. It seems to have stopped growing vertically (for the time being, at least), and so we may now actually have a good idea what the basic structure of the finished product is going to look like...
Kings Place #2
If you look back at the last time I took a few shots (which was in August last year) you can see exactly how much they have achieved in that time (despite the fire that caused the whole area to close thanks to the risk of exploding gas tanks) I tried to take these couple of shots from roughly the same angles as before, so you can see the progress more clearly-
Kings Place #3
- Haha...Well, God bless the local permanent-marker-wielding youth...much improving the work of the local primary school with added "dumplings" (even on the vaguely male-looking pieces, transforming what were probably supposed to be mixing desks into what now looks like an oversized bra) -
Kings Place #5
- walked up to see the view from the bridge over the canal (looks like we have a layer to go on the wedding-cake bit at the end to top it off) and was approached by a guy in a suit who walked right up to me and said "May I ask, who are you working for?", turns out, he is the guy in charge of the whole project, so I introduced myself, told him about the blog (and how to find these entries and photos, although not too difficult with the power of Google)...
Kings Place #6
So, Mr Head of Construction (nice to meet you by the way), and anyone else interested, if you want to really go back in time, check out what used to be on the site (before they demolished it, and dug a huge hole)...1 minute's silence (quiet cry)... ;(

There is another blogger intermittently documenting the build, "at one remove", an artist who either lives or works hereabouts, I think it was he that mentioned that there was going to be an official photographer to document the work but they were cancelled for financial reasons, so I feel duty bound to catch a bit of the construction...just for histories sake... ;)

29 January, 2007

Off to New York City...

Organised Chaos
Well, starting to get my shit together for my impending trip to New York (setting off on the 9th of Feb), only two mishaps so far, namely both my cash advance form and my Virgin eTicket arriving with my name spelled wrongly (issued by different people)... >;(

Hopefully this can be sorted out in time as both these items are rather important to the trip... ;)

Anyway, I'm staying downtown slap bang in the middle of Soho and Little Italy at the Holiday Inn, it's only about a 5 minute walk from the office, and I haven't seen much of downtown, so it'll be a nice change...

I've been looking for interesting places to eat and found a few in the vicinity that look like they are worth trying, first up is Mudville 9, found using Google Maps, who offer the irresistable (and potentially fatal) sounding "Wing Ding", which basically amounts to two hours of infinite beer/chicken wings/fries for $18 (per person), so with current exchange rates about £9(!!)...next up is the famous "Katz Deli" (most notably of "When Harry met Sally" fame, but it's been in lots of movies), for most likely hot dogs or the american version of Hot Salt beef (called Corned beef, oddly, it's nothing like we get out of a tin from Tesco though)...oh and of course I'll most likely go back to Lombardi's (been making pizza in that building in New York city for 100 years!), with it's coal powered oven...mmmm...

I need a rib joint (perhaps back to Blue Smoke?) but that's about as far as I have got with my pre-planning, anyone got any other suggestions?

Update - "M" from the office has suggested one of the last remaining original 70's diners, part of "Forgotten New York" (not far from our office out there) The charmingly named "Moondance Diner" - so retro it doesn't even have a website...! <:0

28 January, 2007

National Rail Enquiries - Complaint - Disgusting Service

Today has been just a little bit exciting (not in a good way), it was time for Ratty to go home, having spent the last week enjoying not being on the idylic island of Alderney (which is about 2 miles across, has little in the way of mainland highstreet shops and a fairly static population (bar the seasonal tourist trade) same old faces, same old places, and your whole life confined to an area the size of central Redhill)...he took the opportunity to "Ooo and Ahhh" at the size of the mainland, stock up on £1 socks, shampoo and dodgy DVD players (all of which are either unavailable or extortionate to buy on the island) and say hello to some old pals...(we will probably pop over to see what the fuss is all about later in the year... ;)

Anyway, that was all good, this morning I had set the alarm for about twenty past eight so he could pack his bags (we had frittered away most of yesterday playing Gears of War Co-Op meaning that minor detail had been forgotten in all the gunfire and flying limbs)...I cooked a spot of breakfast (griddled bacon sarnies on brown bread with plenty of ketchup), Ratty finished his packing and we all piled into Colin to run him into Redhill to catch his train (should have been simple enough)...

I'm starting to think that whenever we get into Colin we are going to have some sort of adventure, because when we got to the roundabout in central Redhill it quickly became apparent (lots of people in HVJs guarding traffic barriers and a number of double decker buses in the station car park) that we were going to have a problem...

Ratty had called National Rail Enquiries on Saturday (during a break from the alien hoard attacking) and been told that all was well, there would be no engineering works and no disruption to the timetable, but had, thankfully opted to set off well in advance of his flight (just in case)...

I ran down to see what the fuss was about (as Ratty's bag was frankly probably about as heavy as me) to speak to the guys blocking the entrance to the station car park and they said - "Nuffink' really runnin' mate, betta take a look at ver bord, but if vere's anyfink it's most likely a bus replacement"...uh oh...we struggled with Ratty's enormous bag down to the main station entrance, on the off chance, but no, everything cancelled...spotted plenty of pissed off, worried looking people who seemed to be quite at a loss, but no trains, and all the buses outside seemed to have no drivers or passengers...so back up to Colin we struggled, and, panting, back home we drove, on the way I rang up National Rail Enquires again, this time getting an Asian sounding gentleman who told me that if we could manage to get to Reading then everything would be fine, the trains to Southampton would be running perfectly, pulling up, diving out, as the plan now seemed to be to try and drive Ratty all the way to Reading to get a connecting service, Flyingpops snapped, and decided that this *really* wasn't good enough, as we had been lied to once already...she decided to give them a call herself...

The. Poor. Guy.

Sorry, whoever you were, but the frustrations of the last (whatever it may have been) all exploded into this guys headset...I couldn't even listen to most of it...hiding outside the front door, relaying whatever bits of English were painless enough to call across to Ratty in the car...

Turns out, all trains from Reading couldn't be guaranteed as running, there just wasn't any news that they weren't running...just awful!...verging on the totally dishonest....it's like playing a tricky mind game with a politician trying to get a straight answer out of that call centre...but, with persistence (once totally battered into submission) he, like a bottled genie threatened with a second eternity at the bottom of a mockingly wealth-filled chasm, finally revealed the only likely route that would work - Gatwick to Clapham, Clapham to Southampton...three calls, three different answers...33% chance (increasing if you threaten death and violence) of a correct answer then...

Ratty called about an hour ago, and all is well, he will make his flight...but National Rail Enquiries? There are no two ways about it - You suck.

27 January, 2007

Arkle Manor, Betchworth - Review

So on Friday night, by way of thanks for his board and lodging at "chez Fink" , Ratty took Flyingpops, Jinx and I out for a treat...the choice was ours and I think we jumped up and down, shouting "Arkle Manor!!" loudly and repeatedly enough to secure the booking (and yes, you do need to book, it's got rather busy in there since the tatty "Harvester" closed it's doors and the subtle and sympathetic conversion back to a nice country pub took place...the pricing on the menu is reasonable, but expect to pay about £25 a head (if you are going for starter, main and desert), plus drinks, oh and on that note, I counted 11 draft beers on tap (all sorts of English and European brews)...quite impressive.. ;) For starter we decided to share a whole roasted camembert, which arrived, studded with rosemary (still in it's little box) swimming in a sweet and fresh cranberry/red grape compote with plenty of hot herb bread to dip into the lushous creamy centre...So inspired by this dish was I, that I made exactly the same thing as a starter for us on Saturday night (but I managed to keep mine from bursting ;) Their's, though, was classically presented, and quite, quite delicious...
Arkle Manor #1
Fillet Steak, medium rare was mine for main...accompanied by a suitably complex deglaze that wonderfully complimented, but didn't overwhelm the simply melt in the mouth flavour of the beef, a subtle horseradish (more cream than bite) topped it off, leaving your palate free to explore the sweet and perfectly cooked vegetables...
Arkle Manor #2
For desert I had a very fragrant blue cheese, served with fine and fruity home-made chutney and Scottish oat cakes (joined by a small glass of port) which was sublime in it's harmony...

All in all, this is, without question, the best meal I have eaten in Surrey in a very long time...bravo... ;)

26 January, 2007

The Incredible vanishing train

East Croydon Station
I know it's all I seem to be going on about at the moment, but the Thameslink mucked up again today, this time in particularly spectacular fashion...Flyingpops has a meeting today (with a large UK Chocolate manufacturer) in Basingstoke, so instead of getting the London Bridge train she hopped on the slightly later Victoria one (with the intention of changing at Clapham Junction). I sat with her for one stop and changed at Redhill. It all looked normal, even the terminally dozy among my fellow commuters seem to have now cottened onto the fact that the train is stopping in a different place nowerdays, so everyone assembled, shuffling newspapers, adjusting scalves, blowing into cupped hands for warmth as the clock marched towards 08:14...then, with no announcement, no fanfare, the train just simply vanished from the display. Thus I found myself on a much later Victoria train than the one I had originally boarded, waiting at East Croydon (pictured above) in the snow, for a connection...

How can they not know that the train isn't running, embarrassed as they may be, if we knew a little earlier that it wasn't going to show up we could have made alternative arrangements? Even if they really didn't notice that it wasn't going to turn up until a minute before it was supposed to do so, shouldn't they have said *something*? There's just no excuse for it...

"Your Journey, Your Choice" speaks the corporate blurb on their home page, well, I think my choice will take me back to travelling in earlier on the London Bridge train (which turns up every day without fail and is never more than 3 minutes late)...

In other news, there was a big event in the Atrium in the office last night and for some reason they have left several extremely expensive looking displays of flowers behind, setting up this nice shot for me, with the canal museum there in the background... ;)
Flowers in the Office #2

25 January, 2007

Oyster Card top up

Snow #3
Back into London again today, snowed a bit overnight, but not as much as yesterday (the salt I put on the path defeated whatever flakes tried to land there), scraped the car down (running very low on deicer spray) and then huddled in the ticket office at Earlswood station to try and keep warm. The train, which was on time, was boiling hot, but I couldn't be bothered to strip off layers, so I just put up with it, got to London Bridge and following Flyingpops observation that there was a machine in the underground that had a big sign saying "Top up your Oyster card here" upon it, I descended on the escalator...I found said machine near the ticket office (past all the cute little food shops in the tunnel) and waiting my turn I whipped out my cards and examined the twenty or so icons on the screen...could I work out how to just put ten quid onto it? None of the options seemed appropriate, so after a few minutes sweating, pushing buttons and looking stupid I just hit cancel and let the next person in the small queue that had formed behind me bussle past (giving me a filthy look)...it was only afterwards that I realised that these machines are probably for the other kind of Oyster card, the ones that just mimick a season ticket...duh...!

Anyway, the smiling ticket lady that served me at the window managed to add me some credit just fine, but I think I'll stick to the newsagents in the Celedonian road in future (much less hassle)...

24 January, 2007

Serious snow, Whitebushes!

Proper snow!
The view out of the bathroom window that greeted me this morning, woo hoo!!
Snow #4
I went out and helped Flyingpops to brush all the snow off the car then swept the steps and put down some salt (already slippery after only about 4 trips up and down them)...
Snow #9
Amazing the way a light dusting of snow totally changes the feeling of a place...
Snow #10
Poor Flyingpops on her way into London Bridge has been sending a stream of texts, she is now on her fourth train, which is just about managing to creep towards the city (absolutely packed with commuters), the preceeding three couldn't get enough traction to move! I'm certain they were just waiting for enough sardines to weigh it down... ;)

23 January, 2007

Exploding Smoothie!

Exploding Smoothie
Wow, we had one go off in the office (in the ladies loo), so Renemy went in to take a quick snap for me - this was the ceiling after the cleanup operation, so they really do go off with quite some considerable force, apparently it was a right mess to begin with ("I thought someone had been shot" was one quote)!!

According to Metro 100,000 of these lovely healthy drinks have been recalled!

If you got one, put it safely somewhere...(away from anything you care about)...scary! :0

Snow in Surrey!

Snow #1
Seriously cold this morning! Decided to wear my jumper instead of a shirt (kind of regretting it now as the heating in the office is, well, on the warm side, shall we say?)...
Snow #2
The snow went on for about half an hour I suppose, didn't settle but it did drive all the usually brave commuters to huddle together for warmth in the shelter between platform one and two (me included)...
Snow #3
Oh, and it's funny, but after mentioning the train yesterday, just after I got on board there was a very polite announcement explaining that the reason the train has started coming to a halt further down the platform is because "they" (not sure who "they" are, but anyway...) have moved the 8 car stop sign "for some reason"...so we do at least know it's not a crazy policy change by First Capital Connect (just to annoy the already frazzled commuters), it's someone at Redhill station mucking us about...just thought I would clear that up for you...

If I was feeling delusional I might almost start to think that someone at First Capital connect had read what I had written... ;)

22 January, 2007

08:14 Thameslink train, Redhill

Redhill Station
Goodness knows why, but all of a sudden last week the Thameslink train that leaves at 0814 from Redhill station (still haven't gotten around to putting some credit on my Oyster card) has started coming to a halt at a different place on the platform (significantly earlier), thereby making all the poor commuters standing further up (including yours truly) run down the platform to leap onto the front carriage before the doors shut...this has really thrown me, I had a nice routine, standing in exactly the right place so the door stops right in front of me, usually getting my favorite seat and neatly disembarking right at the foot of the stairs at Kings Cross Thameslink (thereby beating the crush)... :(

Would have been nice if there had been some sort of notification, or explaination for this new behaviour...even today, loads of people were *still* clinging to the hope (I gave up on Friday) that a normal service would be resumed, but yet again it pulled up short and the panicked stampede recurred...so now I have to work out all over again where the best place is to position myself on the platform, well, either that or get my act together, put some cash on my Oyster card and go back to using the bus to get to Islington from London Bridge...

Anyway, moaning aside, the weekend went really well, Ratty turned up as planned on Saturday (he is staying in the spare room for a week to rediscover what it's like to be in a country with electricity and running water) and I cooked a massive family dinner (10 plates) on Sunday to celebrate Flyingpops' birthday with her folks, brothers and sisters and associated partners/kids, I did roast silverside of beef (3kg!), Priory farm nut roast and organic chicken drumsticks, about 100 roast potatoes (had to do them in two batches!), a massive cauliflower cheese (au gratin of 2 whole cauliflowers), masses of carrots, brocolli, green beans, cabbage, peas, mashed swede...the works...followed by raspberry jelly and cream (courtesy of Flyingpops' mum), the whole lot took about 4 and a half hours to prepare and cook, well worth it though...only problem is I feel like I need a day off now to relax... ;)

20 January, 2007

Dalek Abuse!

Serious Dalek Misuse!
I'm not sure this is quite what Terry Nation had in mind when he conceived the mighty Dalek...

Hair bands...good grief... ;)

19 January, 2007

Leeds Castle, oh and AA to the rescue

Leeds Castle #1
So, after Flyingpops opened her pressies, played with her balloons and ate her breakfast, we headed out in the rain and gusts (reports today are talking of 99mph!), making a (bad) judgement call that the weather was good enough to take Colin the camper instead of the Golf...
Leeds Castle #2
...the journey there wasn't easy, the winds were seriously strong, doing their best to blow vehicles out of lane, but we got there pretty fast, then stopped to make a quick cup of tea/coffee respectively (because we could), ventured into the shop to pay our entrance money and grab some duck food (50p a pot) and a guide book ("that's another 50p I'm afraid")...they also warned us not to venture into the woods, as the high winds might mean an early and most unpleasant death by falling timber, so forewarned and cautiously glancing to the heavens whenever we heard a threatening "KrrCCKreeeeeeeak!", we made our way through the road entrance...
Leeds Castle #4
We got a lift down the avenue from one of the many members of staff standing around idle (we were customers no.14 and no.15 for the day apparently, and we weren't exactly early) in his landrover train (being the only customers in it, which was quite nice, total choice of seats) -
Leeds Castle #37
Only a minute or two later (of "where's this castle then?"ing) gasped at the *most* impressive sight of the structure itself, as it appeared, hovering in the lake-esque moat to our left...
Leeds Castle #21
Leeds Castle #9
Leeds Castle #12
We walked all the way around the castle, the route invaders would have *least* likely taken (imho), but not personally being in posession of swords/shields/etc. following the "This way" signs seemed to be the best course of action. Entry was gained through the cellar, then working our way up through the various rooms (won't go on about all of them, just present a few shots to give you an idea what you can look forward to if you visit) -
Leeds Castle #14
Leeds Castle #15
Leeds Castle #17
Leeds Castle #19
Leeds Castle #20
...we found our way out the front door (through a little human shaped hole so they don't have to creak the whole thing open each time), and back past the long lake...wind and rain really starting to build...taking each shot was a matter of waiting for the wind to drop and the rain let up (for a second) and whipping the camera into position and shooting like a gunslinger in a Western, bit annoying...! Anyway, we found a bit of shelter in the courtyard...phew...
Leeds Castle #22
...and on to the dog collar collection (dog collars originated for stopping wolves and bears going for the vulnerable neck of the dog, not for decoration or identification, which I thought was quite interesting), then for a little lunch...Flyingpops had a "very tasty" tuna and sweetcorn jacket spud and a slightly alcoholic lemonade, I had a nice cup of Earl Grey (not very hungry, been gorging on Frazzles in Colin) -
Leeds Castle #27
Then walked around the lake, and into the maze...where we became hopelessly lost until we bumped into a wizened old man, who said "Are ye ready for some 'elp yet?", we laughed and said we were okay, but the worryingly serious look from his squinted, wrinkled eyes, and the "Are ye *sure* ye don't need any 'elp" that followed rather forced me into a nervous "Okay then", with a much less confident smile to go with it...Turns out we had been going completely the wrong way when we ran into him, so rather lucky we did... ;)
Leeds Castle #28
So, to the centre of the maze, which was a *little* underwhelming, until I spotted the sign over the top pointing to the "Grotto"...
Leeds Castle #31
A secret entrance beneath the centre, leading down through a tunnel, into a bell shaped chamber with crashing water and then out right by the maze entrance! Had been actually a little worried about finding my way back through the maze, not quite being able to encourage myself that reversing the instructions to get us to the centre would work...so that was a nice touch... ;)
Leeds Castle #33
Once we did get out I very quickly decided that it might have been better to stay underground, the wind was amazingly strong, nearly knocking me over a couple of times with breathtaking gusts (must have been getting near our quoted figures, above)...we had a quick look around the aviary (lots of very pretty birds, but my lense was a bit too big to take pics through the gaps in the cages, and I don't like that really, reminds me how caged they are)...
Leeds Castle #40
So we took our walk (not even bothering to wait for the land rover train) judging by the almost asleep people in the waiting room, watched some of the ducks and geese being fed (our feed had been thrown into the water after every single bird we tried to approach flew off), got back to the main shop (by the car park where we had left Colin), four or five people in official looking gear were talking worriedly into walkie talkies, when we got nearby a lady approached and enquired "What colour car have you got?"...as it turned out, a few trees had come down, one of which had made a bit of a mess of someone's pride and joy...and as it transpired pretty far from the only casualty of the weather...
Leeds Castle #39
Anyway, we popped into the shop and managed to break out Leeds castle bear, who is currently staying in the bedroom at home, very relieved, but not after a very difficult rescue mission...some sabotage had obviously taken place as as we pulled onto the M20, Flyingpops floored it and pulled into the middle lane to overtake a slow moving lorry and suddenly (she described afterwards hearing a small "bang") all power was lost, she just managed to coast it over the white line into the (officially) "worst place to break down on a motorway"...with signs telling you not to get out of your vehicle and cross the wall...
Leeds Castle #41
...wonderful...so, the AA called ("No, we can't exit the vehicle! There are signs!", we had an agonisingly scary wait as the wind lashed us from one side and the dirty truck vortex patterns bashed us from inches away the other side...luckily the AA put us at priority one, and the welcome sight of the rescue van appeared in front of us after only about ten (*very* long) minutes...
Leeds Castle #42
We got towed to safety (using a very short cord) a long way up to the next junction, and finally came to rest in a lonely layby, goodness knows where by a load of creaking and swaying dead trees and a gothic church and graveyard...nice...Seriously though, apart from that minor judgement call, this guy was good, he spent over 3 hours on our case, compare that to the RAC (who would have been gone by the time their threshold hits, which is 20 minutes), leaving you waiting goodness knows how long for a lift home on the back of a lorry, ready to face your local garage bill...he did some initial diagnostics, which lead him to think that the little step up box that comes from the coil was broken, so off he went to Gillingham (shudder), to try and source a new one...
Leeds Castle #43
We waited for hours, but at least we had (as I mentioned previously) hot tea, psp, books etc. in the camper to keep us comfortable while we waited for the AA man to return...which took rather a long time...and when he finally returned and swapped the part out (now by torchlight), it didn't fix the problem...anyway, to cut a long and complicated (lack of spark producing) story much shorter, he finally tracked it down to a rogue cable hidden in the loom (looked like a cable from a domestic plug) not only drawing 15 valuable volts from the ignition system, but also shorting it out, he unplugged it, put all our original parts back in and one turn of the key and VROOOM!
Leeds Castle #45
One scary drive home later (high winds causing things to swerve and lots of debris) we swapped to the Golf, and I drove us out for a birthday dinner at the new Gastro pub/farm shop, great disclaimer on the menu about not being able to promise your dinner is free of "shot, bone or feather"...I had a king prawn and chorizo spaghetti (which was much improved by a grind of black pepper, thoughtfully left on the table), but the notable dish of the night was Flyingpops' poached salmon fillet, which practically stopped her talking...amazing...! ;)
Leeds Castle #47
Happy Birthday...Done...*phew*...

18 January, 2007

Colin Fixed!

It wasn't the part after all, it was a rogue wire added to the ignition system by someone shorting it out!

Well, still here...

...something in the electrical system is blown, the AA guy vanished off about an hour ago to Gillingham to get a part, but at least we have books, PSP, some food and the means to make tea...could be a lot worse! Actually breaking down was scary though, lost all power at the start of an overtaking manuver on the M20 had to coast onto the hard shoulder and wait with massive trucks rocking us every five seconds! Not quite the birthday we had planned for Flyingpops, still probably asked for it, speaking of 'adventure' earlier on!


Need I say more? ;)

250 Balloons!

250 Balloons!
"Darling, sometimes less is more"...

Happy Birthday Flyingpops!!! :)

Off to Leeds Castle in a bit in Colin the Camper for a birthday adventure! ;)