It’s 2008 and the traveling season has begun again. I am off to Oslo on a SAS flight out of Manchester and it’s both good and bad that I am out and about again. Good in that I definitely make my biggest inputs as a networker, manager and project planner; bad in that I can’t do much basic academic work when I am travelling and meeting and doing all the management stuff. Sometime this year I need to get down and write 1–3 papers, deliver on 4 projects (with a 5th about to to start), organise 2-4 FP7 project bids and manage a team that is currently about 4-5 strong at home and 30-40 when you add in all the partners that I am responsible for across many workpackages. I can do the project management, I can do the people management, I might even be able to do the papers if I can squeeze the time, but it is a gear shift change from the first 2 years at Newcastle when it was just me doing all the work and eking out a living on a few projects.
Russia was grim, but not because of the cold, but the money grabbing rudeness of everyone, the studied ignorance, the closure of museums at random by uncommunicative militiamen, the lack of any signs in Russian let alone English, French or German. I suspect that the rampant corruption is why everyone is so down and why in a major city like Moscow or St.Petersburg it takes 45 minutes at least to order a taxi, due to the fact that any enterprise attracts the attention of corrupt officials. On the other hand the Russians themselves seem to react to this with a studied glumness and large quantites of alcohol. so do not expect a sober driver or indeed for any driver at all. I travel everywhere in Europe, including all the old Warsaw Pact countries now in the EU, I have travelled worldwide from the Americas to Asia and I have never ever encountered such unfriendliness, lack of interest, money grabbing extortion and sheer horribleness of Russia and the Russians. Don’t go. They have nothing of interest, their art, architecture, culture and food was either bought by a monarch by mail order or one of the long lost of Italians, English, French and Germans that they hired to make or build it. The only part of their history that is fascinatingly Russian is the USSR and they have obliterated all traces of it, so that you can’t get any grip of what it was like, and the place seems to have been run by a succession of kleptocrats of one kind or another since 1991. It’s scary that Stalin seems to be being rehabilitated as a “Great Russian” (ironically exactly how Lenin described him as a warning to others) and the place reeks of xenophobia. If you want to try Eastern Europe, go to Budapest or Prague, do not try Russia for at least another 30 years.
Ok, now I have offended all Russians and people of Russian descent, let me add that I have known Russian ex pats all my life and it was falling in love with the idea of the place as a kid that made we want to go.. maybe that made it worse for me.. I know that behind the rude ignorant glumness there are happy husbands and wives and children and if I knew them as people they’d be fine.. but that’s true everywhere and nowhere else (not even Poland which was a bit like it in Warsaw) treats visitors so badly whilst gouging every last ruble from them.
The fact that my Leica M4 was robbed from my bag on the St Petersburg Metro, a camera bought for me by Ann for my 40th and therefore both of great sentimental value and a beautiful artefact in it’s own right soured things still further, but be clear, we were so deeply sick of the place before then.
I am in Athens, doing a reconnaissance trip for the BESTUFS conference 2008. It has been a wild weekend with winds, cold weather and some thunderstorms they’d be proud of in monsoon countries. We explored the Acropolis yesterday and despite my early doubts, vertigo and the building site nature of it all.. it was awesome! The sense of history, of Athens circa 4-5th century BC and the ruins they left, was cumulative and impressive. They don’t explain it well, every sign is a denunciation of the last restoration and details of the current one (no actual explanation of the building) but I’d read the guidebook on the plane so that was okay. We then ate at a very formal restaurant looking at the Parthenon, and I think in one fell swoop I had found the venue for the conference dinner. The skies opened and we watched the lightning strike the rock and ate our food. The food is the other great discovery, we all love Greek food and we never knew it!
We then walked home, since the annual November 17th demonstration meant that all the streets were closed. We ended walking with the demo, which took me back to my youth. Matt was fascinated and I was surprised that are just so many tiny left wing groups left active. It always strikes me as ironic that the Communists, Trotskyists, trade unions and anarcho-syndicalists all march together. The first thing after a revolution is that the Communists seize power, shoot the anarchists, lock up all the trade unionists and the Trotskyists leave the country, arguing amongst themselves as they go..
Athens, for all the weather, has been interesting..
Brussels has a sense of the comic book about, which makes sense for a country so wedded to the Bande Dessinée. I have been too dismissive of Brussels, it has a lot more charm than I gave it credit for. I walked a lot to and from meetings last week and started to discover squares and streets that have a quality and a style that is very appealing. I think I shall revisit some of them and do some night photography.
I am very chuffed that one of my CC licensed pictures has been shortlisted for the 3rd edition of the Schmap guide to Sheffield. I already have one of my Brussels pictures in the Schmap guide to Brussels, so I guess I must take not too bad pics after all! Schmap guides are multimedia travel guides to cities that, last time I looked, were free. They can be accessed online or downloaded in Windows or Mac versions. The Windows version seems to run fine using Crossover, I haven’t tested it with Wine but it may well work fine.
Matt, Ann and I went to see the Lord of the Rings Stage Show at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane last night and it was great!
Granted to fit the LOTR into 3 hours there is some compacting, conflating and most dramatically Theoden and Denethor are rolled into one and the Battle at Helms Deep with the Battle at Minas Tirith, but it works and is great. It is more about acting than singing, although there are some great songs and Galadriel is enchanting, but this is the best fantasy stage show I have seen, I loved it, Matt liked it but was niggled by the Theoden-Denethor thing and Ann who is not a fantasy fan at all thought it was absolutely great.
You may see some mixed reviews, and I have to say I suspect they are from critics going and expecting a Miss Saigon or a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which this is not. For those of you with multichannel TV look out for a documentary on the show’s staging on Nat Geographic and for those that saw the Hobbit in Leeds, this is better and a little lighter. It would suit kids from 8 upwards easily, the hobbits always make it fun, and the highpoints for me? Galadriel, Gollum and Sam..
We went to Guilfest as we have done for years, 13th-15th July. The weather was ok, it rained on the way down and on Sunday it alternated between baking hot and torrential rain. The lineup was good, and I particularly liked Supergrass on Friday who turned out to be a lot heavier than one might expect. It meant missing the Saw Doctors on the Ents24 stage but I felt it was a good call. On the Saturday I was pleased with MORCHEBA, Ghosts and to a lesser extent Squeeze who were hampered by Glen Tilbrook almost totally losing his voice. I was disappointed with Jimmy Cliff. On the Sunday I greatly enjoyed Skaville UK, made up as they are of many UK ska veterans. Toots and the Maytals also disappointed me, but The Beat and the Dub Pistols made up for it. In the last two slots I loved The Magic Numbers and should have enjoyed Madness, but somehow I was untouched by the Nutty Boys.
Sadly the toilets at Guilfest this year were a crying shame, which for a festival that has always succeeded to provide great bogs, was a crying shame. Still, I bet we’re back next year..
I have recently watched a big wodge of movies as I travel Europe. Oh the joys of laptops and mpeg decryption and PayTV in hotels. I watched Fun with Dick and Jane last night which was okay-ish, nothing wrong with it but nothing to get very excited about. I then watched Alien Autopsy which proved that Ant and Dec can still act, and that the quirky Brit. comedy still has legs. On the other hand it also didn’t set the world on fire, so so-so. I am now on a train watching Night At The Museum which, from the cast list, could be great.. or dire. Let’s all pause and wait until I watch it and tell you in the next sentence..
It was pretty good. CGI family fun. Great to see Dick van Dyke as the baddie. Stiller still never convinces me in a straight role. Rick Gervais is dull, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson have a lot of fun as Roman and Cowboy.
Hi, I have been travelling and travelling. Antwerp, Amsterdam, Delft, Brussels, Gothenberg. Gosh I am so tired and so much want to come home.
Pete has finalised the latest Gwenthia magic chapter which is great, so I need to read and understand that and finish the Gwenthia religions chapter. Then I have a stack of actions from all the work meetings. I am going to be very busy this Easter!
Just been to Antwerp for a pretty good conference on inter modal freight. Antwerp is a much nicer city than Brussels, but gosh it is so dusty and dirty! All the buildings are shabby and the total lack of cleanliness is quite depressing. Brussels is also pretty grubby, I do wonder if it is a Belgian trait? A Belgian colleague did once suggest that the Belgians spend their money inside the home and not outside. Mind you, many British cities are not much better.
I have been watching the excellent Ghost in the Shell 2nd GIG, and now I am on a Thalys train watching the first series of the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.