Saturday, July 30, 2005

Penguin in a suit

Well, I squeezed into my dinner jacket, which I've not worn in 6 years, and spoke to about 10,000 people.

10,000 people who were expecting a summer's evening picnic concert but in fact are huddled under umbrellas wearing macs.

The rain has stopped thankfully. And the orchestra is now playing.

I was pretty terrified to be honest but muddled through. I didn't crack any jokes - soggy sandwiches was a no go area to be honest.

I'm on again at the interval. Yikes.

Halle, thunder and rain

Tonight I'm not just attending one of my wife's concerts - I'm participating. For tonight's and tomorrow's concerts I'm acting as MC at Tatton Park, near Manchester.

Yes, I will be on stage introducing the Halle Orchestra and, tomorrow, Will Young, in front of 10,000 people each night.

Nervous? No, not yet.

I'm actually blogging right now from a portakabin in a field at Tatton Park. They have wireless installed and my god, I feel I'm finally justifying the cost of this laptop!

The Halle orchestra is warming up right now, a lovely sonorous piece. Security staff and event staff are running about, hard at work, while I sit about.

Sadly, it is pouring with rain. Not the ideal conditions for a summer's day picnic concert. I fear some pork pies are going to get quite soggy.

But as MC it will be down to me to jolly the crowd. We're British, we're used to such summer conditions.

I'll drop some pix onto Flickr if I can track down my wife's digital camera.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

My 'local' Starbucks

I read an interesting feature in the Independent earlier this week about one journalist's love of Starbucks.
Read it here

Basically, the reporter embarked on a tour of as many Starbucks in London he could in one day and reported back on his findings - unsurprisingly his commments were not good.

There were a couple of startling facts - London apparently has the second highest density of Starbucks in the world, with 455 branches.
There are 9,481 branches worldwide, all offering a sort of McCafe culture.
Now I'd never set foot in a Mcdonald's 'restaurant' but I'm more than happy to sit in a Starbucks for an hour or so - in fact, it's where I am right now.
Clearly, Starbucks is doing something right.
I agree with the journalist, it's not about the coffee, which is typically bland and bitter.
Partly it's somewhere to hang out, alone or with friends. Britain has not been blessed with great social nexuses (is that a word?) apart from pubs.
Yes, Starbucks has killed off many local cafes and greasy spoons but the fact is these were by and large dreadful places with sticky floors, plastic table mats, and the odor of lard lingering in the air. Great for a sausage sandwich, awful as a crucible of conversation.
Let's not kid ourselves, there's no Parisian left bank-style discussions underway in your local Starbucks - well, certainly not in mine, here in Kew.
But at least you can sit in relative tranquility for 30 minutes in a chair that doesn't look and feel like it was once part of a patio set.

I suppose there is also an appeal to places which are so uniform that they transport you to a state of anywhere-dom. I could be sat in San Francisco, New York or Buenos Aires right now.

The only differences I have spotted is in the food on offer. The panini and sandwiches for sale in the US, for example, are so loaded with sugar it is like sucking on a bag of Tate and Lyle.

The pictures hanging on the walls here in Kew are straight out of the Starbucks production line.

There are a number of arty sepia-tone pictures of city scapes. I have no idea which city it is/they are because to know would be to break the illusion of anywhere-dom.

The same bags of coffee, mugs, flasks that you see in every Starbucks are also for sale here. Does anyone buy these things?

So why am I here? The opportunity to be psuedo-social when in fact I am on my own. People watching is always fun. I'm still in love with the idea I can surf the net in my local cafe. I can entertain the notion that when I step out of Starbucks, I'll be on Market Street in San Francisco and I'll grab a trolley car over to North Beach.

That's a pretty intoxicating illusion.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Open Saturday

After getting a few hours sleep I hopped on the 65 bus and headed over to Alan's house. We gathered up a few clubs and strolled up to the local 9 hole pitch and putt course.

The weather was glorious as we hacked and thrashed our way around the course - twice. We both played pretty poorly but it was great fun. Alan had some nightmares, including a 12 on one particularly horrendous green. I also managed to lose a ball up a tree.

Here's a picture of Alan mid-swing. His shot, incidentally, missed the fairway!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Dirty Harry

I've been up all night reading the latest Harry Potter book; not because I'm one of those man childs who can't let go, but because I was reviewing it for work.'

Fuelled by coffee I mananged to finish all 607 pages in under five and a half hours. Pretty impressive.

I blogged every 100 pages or so, and then went on Radio 5 Live to espouse my thoughts.

Not exactly Brian Hanrahan I know.

I'm now back home in bed with the laptop contemplating sleep.

Goody is working - of course. She's in Audley End, Cambridgeshire for her latest show.

She's working too hard and it makes me worry.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Palm sunday

I don't see my neice as much as I should so it was great that Natalie and Billie came over to see me on Sunday. Billie brought her friend Tash - and the pair of them are double trouble. Mothers - lock up your sons!

Having one of the world's most beautiful locations a matter of yards from one's front door can be quite handy. We went for a wander around Kew, and found ourselves inside the Palm house.

If we thought it was hot outside, inside the great Glass House it was hard even to take a lungful of air.

I love Kew Gardens. It's a pretty special place for Goody and myself.

We used to go there lots when we first met, Goody was the events manager there for 2 years and we got married in Cambridge Cottage in the gardens in 2002.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Kew stroll

Saturday morning over the last few weeks has meant an early start to go and watch the British Lions play New Zealand in a local pub.
The rugby hasn't been great - at least not from the Lions - but the breakfast has been pretty good!

After the Lions lost again I head home and ended up surfing the net in Starbucks, drinking expensive, strong coffee and experiencing expensive, yet weak, wi-fi.

Of course I could have sat at home and done the same thing... but it's nice to be social!

Danny invited me out for an afternoon pint and I headed down to Old Deer Park to sit in the sun, have a jar, chin wag and watch some cricket.

I brought the camera, took a few snaps along the way and a bit in the park.

We whiled away 90 minutes, occasionally watching the cricket, but generally just gossiping about work and stuff.

Goody is working. Up early really early to head to Kenwood where Hayley Westenra is performing.

The weather this morning was cloudy and a tad chilly and I feared for the picnic concert but as the afternoon has progressed, the clouds have burnt away leaving a lovely evening, warm in the sun and quite still.

I hope people are sitting on that bank in front of the stage, enjoying some food and drink, chilling and lapping up the music.
They bloody well should do - Goody's worked so so hard over the last 12 months to make the concert happen!

Friday, July 08, 2005

We're in...

The boxes are unpacked, flattened and taken to the recycling depot. Our bits and pieces are on display. The audio video hub is wired up and ready to go.
And we've even got some pictures on the walls.

No-one can accuse Darren and Goody of slacking when it comes to moving house!

The truth is that we're now a crack commando unit when it comes to removals.

It's strange being back in a flat we occupied four years ago. New memories are overlaying old memories, while some things forgotten are re-emerging.

Old routines are coming out of hibernation, while the changes to the area in Kew and flat in the last few years are jarring with memories of things as they were.

Some changes have a certain fatal inevitability about them - Starbucks has replaced the local bread and pie shop, Tesco has taken over the Europa store.

So I can get a nice cup of Java, but the stilton and broccoli pasties are lost forever.
I can get a wide assortment of snacks, but Paul Newman's pasta sauces are no longer stocked.

Hardly stuff to warrant losing any sleep over - the planes coming in to land take care of that - but jarring nonetheless.

At least we're closer to Kew Gardens again - about 250 yards - so it will be great to visit a place that has a special place in our memories. We did get married there after all.

Take a look at Kew Gardens