Saturday, September 15, 2007

Just been playing around with embedding Google spreadsheets. Here's the result of doing a Google blogsearch on "NZETC" via the importFeed function in Google spreadsheets, presented as an embedded spreadsheet:

Note that this spreadsheet is "live" and will update over time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Whakapapa: fine above the clouds

How to spend a Wednesday. Weather looked pretty ratty until we reached the ski-field but great after that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A squid (the Hawaiian bobtail squid, in this case).
One of my favourite creatures — very beautiful to watch with subtly changing colours. With their large eyes looking at you, they appear to be very intelligent / conscious.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Turakina river

The Turakina river close to breaking into the lagoon

Saturday, December 27, 2003

There's many aspects of life in New Zealand that have been hitting the back of my retinas in the three or so weeks that I've been back, but one that sits quite strongly with me has been the white crosses seen planted on the roadside verges.

I remember this started happening about six or seven years ago, a white cross being planted by the family of a road accident victim to mark the site of the accident, and to act as a warning to other road users. However, inevitably, since this started happening, the number of white crosses has grown with the occurence of accidents over the years, and it is sometimes startling to see so many over the course of a short journey, and not always in places which you could appreciate as dangerous spots on the road.

As well as being struck by the number of crosses that have appeared, it is also startling and saddening to see the number that are regularly maintained, with a bunch of flowers left at the base or a wreath placed over the cross. One on the main road not far from where I'm staying is a simple white cross, but having the name of the unfortunate victim ("Fiona") painted across it means that it catches my attention each time I pass it, and makes me feel a little sad.

Talking about it with my mother, she told me about passing one on her drive into town where there is often a young boy seated next to the cross playing a guitar, and it left me to speculate whether it was a mother, sister, girlfriend or other that the boy was playing to.

These white crosses do remind me that death is not so far away, and make me think how little we sometimes appreciate our lives and those around us until they are taken from us, while of course serving in other ways to allow the families affected to grieve and act as reminders to other road users.

The road safety message is spread in other ways too; although much on New Zealand television is unmitigated crap, each christmas period there are usually one or two ads that feature on the box concerned with reminding the public about the dangers of the roads, and these ads are almost without exception chillingly effective.

The current ad features sequences of domestic and holiday interiors, such baches and caravans, with a camera panning across holiday snaps of people together, families in couples, and others, say pinned up on walls and fridges. As we are presented with each photograph of people enjoying themselves, one or more people fade away from the photograph, denoting deaths on the roads. All this to a soundtrack of a cover of Tears for Fears "Mad World".

A few years ago, while hitching up through the country at the start of the university holidays, I remember ending up one evening standing in a small pool of light underneath the solitary streetlight in a small place called Himitangi, trying desperately to cadge a lift from one of the few passing motorists. Eventually a car pulled over, and after a couple of questions from the driver, who had just finished a shift at a local processing plant, I was kindly offered a bed for the night at the house he shared with his wife, as it was pretty obvious I was going to have little chance of finding a lift. They were both lovely people, but both were almost unbearably sad, as their young son had died in a road accident about a year back, the son having been in the back of their car when they were hit by another vehicle pulling out in front of them. Although it's a number of years since that night, I'll always remember the mixture of generous hospitality and sadness that I experienced, and in spite of what I've been experiencing in the last little while, I know that it just can't compare to the loss of a child.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A New Zealand road trip demands the consumption of New Zealand road trip junk food.

I've just been down to Wellington for a few days, and on the six hour trip on the way down I kept myself going with a meat pie (steak and oyster), a twin-scoop icecream (fig and honey, and boysenberry), and a Cookie Time cookie (apricot and chocolate).

Arriving in Wellington with my hunger sated, I found a beautiful city basking in the sunshine, wooden villas straggling across the step hillsides. It seems that almost everyone lives in houses with fantastic views across the harbour, or out into the Cook Strait with the Kaikoura mountains rising up from the South Island in the distance.

There are some things that appealed to me immediately, such as the geography of the city; there's something about living in a flat city that is a bit soul-deadening, and the abundance of hills fringing Wellington's harbour defines the routes one takes and provides many spots to get viewpoints over the city. The presence of hills changes the accessibility of certain parts of a city, with some parts becoming more remote and intriguing, and they become hard-won destinations if reached on foot or by bicycle. As a result of being sited on a hillside, sections of the city develop more of an identity, being distinguished from their surroundings and becoming more visual because of the elevations.
One evening I sat with friends on the grassy slopes of Mt Victoria and watched the sun disappear over the far hills, picking out landmarks in the city below while eating kumera chips.

Another feature of Wellington that I can't help relating to is the closeness to the sea; though truely sandy beaches are few, it feels so good to walk around the rocks and through the coarse sand while watching breakers crash a few feet out from shore, and there's something that's cleansing and good for the soul about surf beaches.
The friends I stayed with had a dog that was born to swim in the sea, and indeed he'd be in the water and a good part of the way to the South Island before you'd even found a stick to throw for him to retrieve.

Walking along the beaches, there's something about the flax bushes, the paua shells in the sand, and the scrub-covered cliffs looming overhead that ties into so many childhood memories, and so quickly makes me feel at home again. With the hills and the harbour hemming Wellington in, it is easy to get away from the city and to find oneself in more natural surroundings, and there's many places to go walking or mountain biking.

As for the social side, there seems to be more culture available than the city deserves (more than you can shake a stick at, as the kiwi expression goes), and there's no shortage of music, theatre and the arts. On the night I arrived I was taken to check out some local bands, while the next night saw us at a Calexico concert, who seemed genuinely surprised at the appreciative reception they received.

While I was in Wellington I managed to significantly increase my knowledge of the layout of the city, check out some of the culture, catch up with good friends, and get a flat organised for when I move down permanently after christmas.
Although it was a busy few days, everything seemed to dovetail together quite nicely, helped by the fact that no place in the central Wellington area is more than a few minutes away from another place, at least by car. Indeed, after being used to planning hour-long journeys across London, it's almost too easy to find yourself on the other side of town within ten minutes.

For the time that I was there the city seemed to be showing me her best profile, and my curiosity about the darker side of Wellington showed when my friend told me I was asking too many questions about the bad weather (Wellington has a reputation for foul weather and high winds, being as it is on the Cook Strait).

One of the first purchases I'll be making when I arrive is a mountain bike, which seems essential given the accesibility of the city and the temptations of the hills fringing Wellington.
All told, it seems to be the right place in New Zealand for me to be living in, and luckily I'll have the advantage of getting to know the city during the summer months.

Monday, December 08, 2003

One thing that I've yet to get my head around since arriving back in New Zealand is how to deal with pronounciation, specifically Maori placename pronounciation.

Over the last twenty years or so, there's been quite an emphasis on pronouncing Maori placenames correctly, so the "wangeray" that you used to hear on the TV news when I was a kid has become "fangharay" (the actual spelling of the placename is Whangarei).

This was all well underway before I left the country, and now that I'm back, thinking that the correct pronounciation is the one to use, this is what I've been trying to employ in conversation.
However, it seems there are still plenty of people who are very happy using the old-style pronounciations, but not in all cases, and it's really hard to know which is more acceptable or comprehensible.

For example, my mother lives at a place called Apata, which correctly pronounced should be something like "Ah PAH ta", but the typically Kiwi squashed vowel pronounciation that seems to put the flicker of recognition on people's faces is "A pi tuh".

So, it's a bit of a cultural minefield to have to negotiate. Yesterday's interview went well, and it all sounds very promising regarding my chances of getting onto the publishing course. During the interview the big "M" question appeared, as I knew it would, which goes something like are you familiar and comfortable with Maori culture and Treaty of Waitangi issues?.

I guess eight years out of the country means that they'll cut you some slack, but happily I was also able to relate to the interviewer my time at university studying the Treaty of Waitangi and New Zealand history, and I think this qualified as a good enough answer. The Maori culture question is one that pops up again and again - there's no particular problem I have with that, but it is a question that you do have to have an answer to - "I don't know" just doesn't cut it.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

The great thing about running is that you can do it almost anywhere.

I've been conscious over the last little while that I've not been doing too much exercise. The swimming that I took up earlier in the year has petered out, though I'm keen to continue once I find myself settled near a pool. In the meantime, the one form of exercise I have occasionally been doing is putting on my trainers and going for a run around the neighbourhood every now and then.

Although a long time ago I remember thinking that it was a boring form of exercise (i.e. before I really attempted it), the thing about running is that it provides much more than just the physical exercise. It gives me a chance to get my body into a rhythm and let me mind work on some of the things I've been experiencing recently. It also provides a good way of checking out the surrounding neighbourhood; it's amazing the sorts of things I've discovered about the areas in which I've lived by running down some of the paths and streets I'd otherwise never have a reason to explore. It also lets me take a bit of time to enjoy the day, as I typically go running in the morning or the late evening, and on a fine day it's a great experience to be soaking up some sunshine while noticing the workings of the community around me.

This morning was quite nicely typical. Currently staying between Tauranga and Kati Kati, I took the car down to Omokoroa, a small beach suburb separated by about 15 kilometers from the urban sprawl of Tauranga, and ran through the roads leading around the harbour and along the foreshore. Being a fine day, the air was clogged with pollen, sitting like a transparent blanket over the landscape, and everyone I passed wished me a good morning (I'm still getting used to how spontaneously polite and good mannered people in NZ can be).

So, after an hour or so running around Omokoroa, I feel quite nicely chilled out and relaxed, which is going to be important as I've got a phone interview this afternoon for a year long publishing course that I'm keen to get into in Wellington. I'm pretty confident and relaxed about the interview, but at the same time it's been quite a while since I've had to go through any sort of interview process, and I really want to find myself in this publishing course come next February.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Ever wondered about some of the big questions?

Over the last couple of days I've found myself reading a book called "What Should I Do With My Life" by Po Bronson. It didn't so much leap off the bookshelf at me as sidle up and give me a nudge in the ribs. The question the title of the book asks is at least partway valid for me at the moment as I'm in transition between lifestyles and careers, but it's not occupying all of my waking time as I think I've got a good idea of what I want to do with myself, at least over the next little while.

Still, flicking through the pages I realised the author had done some good work, getting many people to relate to him their experiences in the process of looking for what they felt they should be doing with their lives, and for some what it means and feels like once they know what they should be doing with their lives.
And the thing is, he's interested in these people and not just using them as an excuse to pop out a book.

I think I've learned more than ever over the last few month's how illuminating other people's experiences can often be, and this book is crammed full of just that, filtered beneath the author's very sharp gaze. In fact, in asking his question to the people that he encountered, Bronson ends up becoming involved in their process of discovery and exploration - his subjects let him know that his involvement in their lives is not a one way street, and they make him think deeply about what he is contributing and reflecting back to them.

Regardless of whether the title of the book is a question that you're asking yourself or not, it makes incredibly fascinating reading, partly because of the perceptive style of writing, but also because there is much in these people's experiences and philosophies that sings out about the human condition, and what it is to be human.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Well, I've made it to the other side of the world, and emerged blinking from the aircraft into the strong sunlight.

Twenty six hours in transit was enough time to read two novels (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee, and Youth by J M Coetzee), read two magazines (The Economist and Forbes,), watch five movies (The Incredible Hulk, Spellbound, T3, Notting Hill, American Wedding), eat two breakfasts and two dinners (Red Thai Chicken and Beef Casserole), and have two showers in the hospitality longues between flights.

With so much to pack in you'd think there'd be no time to sleep. Well, actually, there was plenty of time to sleep and this would have been my number one preferred activity, but the experience of flying seems to prevent my body from doing much dozing, and I think I managed four hours in total.
The combination of the fetid atmosphere, upright seating position, and constant engine hum is more than enough to prevent me from falling into a comfortable sleep, so bleary eyed I find myself squinting at the movie playing on the seatback video screen while miles high above Indonesia and between time zones.

Now that I'm back on firm ground, I've been doing lots of sleeping, and after two days, almost feel human again. Next time I do this trip a stop-over is definately on the cards.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Anytime anyone asks you to explain why rugby is a better game than football (i.e. "soccer" for those of us who live in countries where there is more than one game that obviously qualifies as a type of football), just mention this bit from the Guardian newspaper's sports section, referring to the return of the World Cup-winning English rubgy side:

"The last time hundreds of English fans turned up at an airport to greet a returning England team was after the 1990 football World Cup when they lost the semi-final on penalties. Then the popular hero was Paul Gascoigne, and he greeted his public wearing a pair of false breasts."

Enough said, I think.
My stumbling around Europe continues.

At the moment I'm in Munich, visting friends and my god-daughter who has recently become a one-year old.
It's funny what being around young children does to you. I've only had limited experience of young children in my life, and it's quite amusing to find yourself making disjointed sounds that have no resemblance to normal conversation. Not only that, but you find yourself chasing said god-daughter around the room, between and underneath the furniture on all fours.
She's really lovely, and thankfully appreciates my presence (something to do with my expressive eyebrows, I think).

Thankfully at the end of the evening I get to retire to a far corner of the house, so I don't get to hear her when she starts to grizzle at 2:30am, unlike her parents who get to hear this only too well.

Much of today was spent at the Deutsches Museum, sort of like the Science Museum in London, expect with a very German slant. They had a very good section on printing and print technologies, partly because many of the inventors in the field were German (Gutenberg included).

Also, there was an excellent section on Astro-nautics (I think that's what it was called). partly because again they were making a point that all modern space rocket technology derived from the WWII V2 rocket and Werner Von Braun, its architect and subsequent head of the Nasa programme to send a mand to the moon.
I'm not one to quibble though about the national slant, and it was all very interesting stuff, if a bit boyish.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Something that's kept me busy for the last six weeks or so while I've been back in London are two printing courses that I've been doing at Kensington and Chelsea college, each a day a week.

It's been great to get back to doing printmaking, as it's something that I've really enjoyed in the past, and I've been learning quite a bit about some of the techniques I was unfamiliar about, helped by some very good tutors.

One thing that I've learnt during this time doesn't necessarily concern the printing process itself; I spent a fair bit of time doing drawings and hand-cutting plates, and these tasks can take a long time to complete depending on the difficulty and complexity of the image. What I've learnt in the process of doing these tasks, I think, is the reason why many people think that they are unable to draw or be an artist. Also, looking at some of the fantastically detailed works I've seen in some of the exhibitions around town in recent weeks (particularly the exhibition of contemporary Chinese printmakers at the British Library) has led me to the same idea.

There's no getting around the fact that much great and interesting artwork takes a significant investment of time. Doing my own work, I've been reminded of the patience that's needed to complete work, and I think a lot of people (myself included, all too often) get impatient to produce results quickly.
I'm sure that many people can produce great artwork if they put in the time, but too many of us expect to shoehorn results into a too small space of time, and maybe suffer from a lack of concentration.

The funny thing is, that when you get immersed in the work, you don't seem to be concious of how much time is passing, and are not bothered by the length of effort required.
I think this is something to do with the left brain / right brain thing; to simplify, the left side of the brain is quick and impatient, whereas the right side of the brain is more interested in the work itself. I do notice myself feeling quite relaxed and satisfied while doing some of these long tasks, once I get beyond any sense of impatience I may have about getting the job finished.

I'm sure if we all allowed ourselves more time, many of us would find that we could surprise ourselves with our abilities to draw and paint - I know I have.

I think there are also plenty of artists out there who expect quick results, and may not be so interested in investing the time required.
To paraphrase Banksy, "Why is it that many artists are prepared to suffer for their art, but not many artists are prepared to learn to draw?"

Monday, November 17, 2003

For some reason someone's erected a wind turbine on the southbank, just next to the Royal Festival Hall. I'm sure that this is not in order to pump an incremental bit of extra power into the grid supplying London, so maybe it's intended to get the general public to appreciate wind turbines as emblematic symbols of the modern age in order to soften us all up for future wind farms that will be springing up on skylines across the country.

Ah, here we go - turns out that this is basically what it is all about. From the 18th of November it will be generating something called the Shell Electric Storm, which will be a display of coloured lights and mist surrounding said wind turbine in order to "capture the imagination of Londoners and visitors to the capital and help build their awareness of renewable sources such as wind."

On another matter, why do I seem to have the knack of sustaining an average two day cold for more than a week?
My body seems only too efficient at producing large quantities of mucus (bet you wanted to know that), but the good thing is that it's got me off smoking for the last week.

At the moment I feel like my ears are stuffed with cotten wool, and I'm doing involuntary impersonations of Marlene Dietrich, albeit without the accent and one or two octaves lower.
I've been doing a lot of finding out about various aspects of relationships over the past few months, both from first-hand experience and from hearing about the experiences of friends.

As a result I've been doing a fair bit of learning and thinking about it all, and have been surprised at some of the things I've discovered. For instance, in an age such as we are living in now, we all have much more choice about how we will live our personal and public lives, but the flipside of this seems to be that we get to experience much more uncertainty.
I think I've always been a person who expects the world to deliver substantial amounts of black and white, but too often things are couched in various shades of grey. And the more that I think I know myself and what I want, perversely the more room there seems to be for these shades of grey to flourish.

Maybe this has got something to do with knowing enough to know what it is that we don't know (if you can follow that).

At university one of the subjects I majored in was economics, which I always found fascinating from the social side. However, the fatal flaw in the science of economics is that by and large it assumes that people make rational choices.
Fine for some of the time, but all too often we all make choices that don't have too much to do with rational thought at all, but are guided by a gut instinct or emotion. Sometimes our guts seem to have a better handle on the truth than our brains, but not all the time, and it's a wonder of the human condition that we've evolved into something that can be both supremely rational and irrational.

I guess life would be a bit boring otherwise.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I've been bothered a bit over the last week or two about this blog.

Although I've been putting up ocassional entries, I'm finding fewer things to write about, and haven't been feeling overly motivated about keeping it up to date.
After having a trawl through a number of other blogs the other day, I realised what the problem was. Much of my recent writings have not been too personal, more observational regarding little things in everyday life that I notice. Reading through some of the other blogs I've found, I realised that although the content and style differs incredibly, most of the best say something about the author and are often quite personal. In fact, a few go way beyond this and report stuff that the author would probably not be telling their collegues, or even partner ocassionally; it's funny how intimate people end up getting with the faceless masses on the Internet.

So, it's important I think to find the right balance between public and private when writing up a blog entry, and this is why I've been having a few problems with finding what to say.
There's been a lot going on in my life in recent times, and this weblog has only been reflecting a part of that. I think I need to change the balance of what I'm putting up, and stray a bit more into the personal.

Some of the other weblogs that I follow can be totally candid about everything in the author's life, largely I'd guess because the author is sure that noone they know is reading there work. As I know that a number of friends and family follow this, I'll not be putting every thought and reaction up here, but I will try to start writing a bit more honestly about my internal life, as well as what I'm finding going on around me.

Don't worry about the new approach though, I think I've got a reasonable nose for detecting and avoiding melodrama!

Monday, November 10, 2003

The area around Upper Street and Essex Road in Islington is full of plenty of restaurants, cafes, gift shops and the like, all quite happy to relieve you of your money, but there are a handful of shops that really stand out for me.

Starting down Essex Road from Angel, there's a shop on the right hand side called Past Caring, which has got to be one of the best junk shops in London.
The window is always full of fantastically shaped glass ashtrays and vases (there was a time in the 1970s when the ashtray was almost a form of high art), and there's usually plenty of interesting crockery, clothes and fabrics from the fities, sixties and seventies.

If you're lucky you'll ocassionally find an old dansette record player or funky radio lurking in a corner, and there are always a few weird and wonderful things that have spent much of their life hanging on the walls in someone's bachelor pad.

I am physically unable to walk past this shop without poking my head in for five or ten minutes to see what's new, and given that everything is priced at junk shop prices rather than antique shop prices there's always a healthy turnover of stuff.

Across the road is a shop that I've never bought anything from, but one which is certainly much weirder than Past Caring. Called Get Stuffed, it's a taxidermists, and the window is always full of animals with suitably startled expressions.

There's the odd dog or two, lease in mouth waiting eternally for its owner to reappear, but there are also much weirder creatures.
Walking past the other night, I remember seeing the following animals: an ostrich, a bat, a leeming looking like he'd just encountered the cliff he was going to jump over (and yes, I know it's a myth), a bat, a brace of hare hanging from the roof, owls, weasels, jays, moles blinking in the light, and weirdest of all, a London pigeon (for what reason would someone decide that it was worth stuffing the all too common street pigeon?).

I don't know who buys these animals, but I do notice that the turnover in Get Stuffed is a lot slower than that in Past Caring. I do also remember the owner getting into trouble a while back for having certain animals in the shop that are considered rare and endangered, though I can't remember which.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

I'm not been much of a dance-orientated person for most of my life, but I've found myself introduced to the world of dance over this weekend in the form of a dance-orientated small film festival, and have been very pleased by what I've seen.

The most impressive film was about Carmen Amaya, the famous flamenco dancer, who captured the world's attention during the middle of the 20th century with her wild and furious innovations of the gypsy dance.
There was plenty of archival footage, including scenes from the movies that she appeared in, and her dancing was electric and very emotional.

Up to her time the traditional flamenco dancer either danced more expressively with the feet, or otherwise with the upper body, but for Carmen her whole body was used in the dance. The footwork was incredible, with very distinct and sharp stacatto threatening to drill holes in the floor, while her upper body would twirl and engage in all manner of improvised and set pieces.

She was a strong innovator, changing the nature of flamenco dance by using many of the male dance conventions in her dance, dancing in trousers at times rather than a dress, and using castanets and clicked fingers where they traditionally didn't appear, and changing the content and form of the traditionallt set styles of flamenco dance.

And not only was the dancing incredible, but the level of muscianship accompanying her was fantastic, with some of the best flamenco guitaring I've ever heard, particularly from Sabicas Castellon.
One thing common to most people organising a party is the dreaded fear that starts developing around 7pm on the eveniing of the party that noone will turn up.

I know I, like everyone else, have experienced this at least a couple of times in my life, and this Friday just gone it was my flatmate who was going through the same experience.
She'd decided to organise a Halloween party and had gone to some lengths with the decorations and her makeup (dressed up in a definately scary witch costume, she is also possessed with a very wicked natural cackle). Being a large flat (around 20 flatmates), some were going to be at the party but a number of others already had other plans, including a dinner party going on elsewhere in the flat.

C was starting to get quite anxious around about 8pm that there was nobody downstairs in the large basement area dedicated to the party, and we did our best to assure her that it'd be OK and that everyone would turn up when they'd been thrown out of the pubs, it being a Friday night.

And sure enough, people starting drifting in about 10-10:30pm, and things were very lively for the rest of the night, and much fun was had.
It's not necessarily a London thing, as other places where I've lived parties don't often get going properly until later in the evening, but the extreme example I encountered this summer as in Madrid where people don't even consider going out to a party until it's somewhere near midnight.

In the end C was very happy with the success of her party, but I did sympathise with the way she was feeling earlier in the evening.
There's plenty of fears that are irrational to have, but that doesn't stop us human beings having them anyway.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I've found myself back in London in time to check out some of the films in the annual London Film Festival.

Always a cornucopia of cinema, the trick is to read between the lines of the film reviews in the programme, which are always unstintingly favourable, and work out those films that really do deserve your attention. Once you've done that, you then have to work out whether the films that you want to see are going to reappear again in future on wide release, or whether the film festival is going to possibly be the only occasion to see them, and therefore you are totally justified in paying the slight premium that the film festival tickets go for.

Notable films that I've seen in the last week include:

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I found history in the making passing me overhead on Friday.

Coming out of my printing course, I heard the familiar concorde roar that many Londoners know, especially those that live underneath the flight path and have to pause all verbal communication while it passes by.
No sooner than the first concorde had passed directly overhead, landing gear dangling ready for the descent into Heathrow than the roar of the second concorde started.

In fact the last three BA scheduled concorde services were flying in to Heathrow in procession, each separated by about two minutes. In spite of the fuel-guzzling, loud and envornmentally unfriendly aircraft that it is, many people who have never been able to afford a flight (such as myself) still have a special affection for it. It's a symbol of an acheivement that may not be repeated, something that belongs more to fantasy than reality in many ways, and something that makes you think of things less ordinary.

So, it was wonderful and yet sad to see these three concordes descending together to Heathrow for the final time, and many people were rushing out of pubs and stopping their cars on the side of the road in order to get a final glimpse of the great aircraft.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I've been wandering around the Southbank with a friend for most of the afternoon today, and it really is one of London's under-used asset. I can't count the number of times I've mentioned some of the places on the Southbank to people and just received a blank stare in return, and it's a bit depressing that more people don't realise how cool the place is.

At the moment there's a lot more people than usual making a visit, and this is because of David Blaine's attempt to spend 44 days in a glass box (which he has practically completed, today being the last day). I'm amazed at the attention that this has attracted, and it really does make me wonder why people find it so fascinating.

Would the same people consider lining up outside the visitors entrance of the prison when an inmate goes on a hunger strike? Is this not effectively the same thing? Although I'd personally not like to try to stave myself while sitting in a glass box for 44 days (particularly not while suspended over the heads of a less-than-adoring public), there are many examples where people have been through a similar ordeal in the past, and it is of course a test of endurance, not an illusion.

It could be that this is a public relations exercise by the GLA to get more people to make use of the Southbank, and if so, it has worked stunningly well. And if this is the cause I applaud the end, if not the means.

Reasons to visit the Southbank, in my humble opinion, include the following. You'll notice that the chance to see an American illusionist go without a few hot meals while being gawped at by those with nothing better to do does not feature on this list.

  • The Royal Festival Hall, my favourite London landmark
  • The National Film Theatre
  • The outdoor book sellers, underneath Waterloo bridge
  • The bars and ambience of Gabrial's Wharf
  • The opportunities to cut a few ollies with your skateboard
  • The London Eye
  • The Design Museum
  • The pubs that offer good beer and food, with a view across the Thames
  • The Tate Modern
  • The new GLA headquarters
  • The chance to walk across the new Hungerford bridges, not to mention the Millenium Bridge
  • The chance to look back across the river and thumb your nose at the West End, while admiring the lights strung through the trees on the far bank.
  • The opportunity to stroll along the riverside, somehow feeling that you are in Europe and not just the UK.