Sunday, September 28, 2008

Part Seven: The Return and Classical musicians vs Italian baggage handlers

View from Our Balcony at The Grand Hotel Villa Medici

Neither of us could sleep. here is something about travelling clearly as it was a repeat of the night before we flew out of London. At about 3 a.m. we decided to open the curtains so we could at least watch the stars and the dawn. The main balcony doors were in the bedroom so the view was amazing. At 6, bleary eyed we got up, put our last items into the cases and checked out.

Plastic Flowers on a Saint's Shrine

We walked through the deserted streets up to the station and purchased our tickets in more confident Italian than we had bought the tickets that had brought us to Florence. Once again Trenitalia were great and the train arrived on time and got us to Pisa on time too. A last look at the Tuscan countryside through the train window was a fine end to our time in the country. We checked in our luggage and went off in search of something to eat. Our options were limited and the only place that had anything that looked OK was heaving and, has been mentioned before, has an area for payment a good distance from the place where the food resides. The novelty in this case was that you had to pay up front, when you couldn't see the food and then take your receipt over to collect what you'd ordered. After this we sat and watched the world go by.

The world on this particular Sunday morning consisted of rather more classical musicians than is usual. I have never seen so many varied instrument cases before. Finally our flight was called, already 30 minutes late. The cases and their owners came too. Clearly the orchestra was to fly with us. I remember thinking to myself how they were going to stow the instruments as I couldn't believe that any self-respecting musucian would allow the precious tools of their trade to be checked in as regular luggage. The answer to my question was to keep us on the ground and sat in the aircraft for another hour. It turns out that all airports have special ropes and fastenings for securing large collections of valuable instruments in the flight cabin. The senior engineer at the airport is the person who is responsible for the kit and on this Sunday morning not only could the fastenings not be found anywhere, nor could the engineer. After an hour both had finally been located and we were strapped in, ready to fly. The journey home was uneventful and we pushed open the door to Schossadlerflug at a little after 4.30 p.m. The immediate task was to have my first cup of tea in a week. I don't think I've ever gone so long without tea and by god I needed this one. After that we began the tedious process of unpacking and washing our week's worth of clothes. At about 10 o'clock we curled up, very happy to be back in our own bed even though we'd had a fascinating time and a good holiday.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Part Six: The Hotel Bathroom Incident

Santo Frediano in Cestello

I didn't eat breakfast on Saturday. You'd ideally want your first night in (a highly discounted) hotel suite to be a pleasant affair allowing you to enjoy the creature comforts to hand. I spent it with a really bad stomach and a cold sweat. Ho hum. Though neither of us felt we could face breakfast we decided to see if a wander and a little shopping mightn't cheer us up. I had managed to buy a cardigan on the Friday, an item for which I've been looking for "just the right one" for ages now. I had also decided I wanted a new pair of shoes some while back and had thought that Florence, noted as it is for its leather working, would be the perfect place to get some. I'd seen a pair of lovely correspondent brown shoes in a shop near our first hotel on our first morning in the city. I'd been back a few times to refresh my memory as I tried to decide whether they were right for me. By Saturday I had decided that they were. I was very conscientious. I checked Google language tools for how to say my shoe size in Italian and the word for shoes. With this information I strolled into the shop. I was greeted by a very surly individual who snorted when I asked if he had a pair of the shoes I liked in my size. Not only did he not, he didn't in the two sizes smaller than that. They did make them any larger than two sizes smaller than my feet. I was shocked. I had prepared myself for the possibility that they may not have my size in stock but the possibility that they wouldn't even make them that size had not entered my head. T had to take me, now inconsolable and finally hungry out for a lunch to cheer me up. No fricken' shoes for Mr A.

The afternoon provided an opportunity to sample some really poor engineering. The doors in our hotel rooms had what at first glance looked like a regular door knob. They did not turn like a normal door though, oh no, they had a button on top which you pressed to release the mechanism. Things like this baffle me. What's wrong with a normal door knob? It's a technology that's proved itself time and time again. At Schossadlerflug we have the dumbest bath plug ever. It's a spring-loaded thing that has never worked since we move in and can only be opened by jamming a Virgin Airlines teaspoon under the seal to jemmy it open. Our hotel had the door equivalent. I was happily reading my book when I heard a plaintive little cry from the bathroom. "The door's stuck", said T from within. I had a go at opening it from the outside and stuck it was. There was also no screw to remove to take the handle off and open it that way. I went down to reception and in pidgin Italian accompanied by a lot of hand waving explained to the guys on the desk what the situation was. Someone would come a deal with it they said. I went back up to the room and I waited on one side of the door whilst T waited, increasingly testily on the other.

After 15 minutes I pushed a copy of Private Eye under the gap in the bottom of the door so she could have something to read as I stormed back down to reception to see what was going on. "Is coming." I was told. Another 10 minutes pass during which T and I work out what food I'd be able to pass under the door when she got peckish. Pizza seemed the best bet. We were on the verge of trying to break the door down when the engineer arrived. He prodded the door and fiddled with his screwdrivers for a while before looking up, surprised, and said "No open". Smart fellow. He then went off to get a more senior engineer and they both set to work. Eventually they levered the knob off and found that the door frame was splintering and some had got into the door mechanism and jammed it. With this removed a very disgruntled T emerged. The engineers assured us that the door would now work perfectly but we treated it with suspicion for the rest of our stay and refused to shut it for fear of a repeat performance.

T on The Balcony at the Hotel

Film in the Piazza Santo Spirito

After an afternoon sitting on the balcony reading our books we set out for our final dinner in Florence. My buddy Miss W who had recently visited had given us a recommendation and after much debate with the concierge we had got it booked (we suspect the concierge was in the pay of rival restaurants as he seemed very reluctant). We arrived at 8 and were greeted with glasses of prosecco to sip whilst we perused the menu. My friend had insisted that I should have the gnocchi with truffle oil sauce and who was I to refuse? For the main course I couldn't resist another of those amazing, and vast, Florentine steaks. By about 10 o'clock we had finished the main course and were completely stuffed. Though they looked great there was no way we could face a pudding and so we paid a fond farewell to the south side of the Arno and went back to finish our packing as we had an early start for our journey home.

Sitting and Drinking Outside Santo Spirito at Night


Friday, September 26, 2008

Part Five: From the Sublime to the Sublimely Ridiculous

View of the Duomo, Florence from The Grand Hotel Villa Medici at Dusk

We had initially planned to stay for four nights in Florence. However a couple of weeks before we were due to fly British Airways sent a confirmation e-mail to T which also had a little button labelled "Click here to extend your holiday by two nights". She went giddy and an then involuntary spasm later and she'd clicked the button. We were now flying back on the Sunday. Our hotel booking ran out on Friday morning. Having tried in vain to extend our stay at the Hotel Davanzati (I guess you don't become the number one hotel in Florence on TripAdvisor without being popular) we started a search for alternative sleeping arrangements. As it was pretty close to the date of our holiday there were quite a few last minute offers available at some pretty swanky looking hotels. We eventually plumped for the Grand Hotel Villa Medici in which we booked a junior suite (I'd never been in a suite before let alone stayed in one) for a hugely reduced rate. It wasn't in any way cheap but we felt we'd earned it with all the overtime we'd been doing.

We checked out of the Davanzati just as it began to rain. Well I say rain, there was a hint of moisture in the air and the odd spot of water. Nevertheless as we headed westward, dragging our bags, we witnessed the crowds of tour groups covered in waterproof ponchos, rain coats and all sporting enormous golfing umbrellas. I was wearing a light linen suit and scarcely got damp the whole half hour it took us to walk to the new place. Mind you, the locals were no better at dealing with a touch of drizzle with unforeseen hazards for me. I am a little over six feet tall. When I walk around in London the pointy metal spoke ends of the average height Londoner's umbrella are roughly level with my eyes which would make walking around in a rain storm rather dangerous if I didn't wear glasses. I've had nasty scratches along my neanderthal eyebrows before though. Italians are, as a rule, smaller putting their brollies at throat height. This was really frightening and I was dodging and weaving like a out punched prize-fighter as I dragged by suitcase up to the hotel.

Suite in the Grand Hotel Villa Medici

When we tried to check in our designated room was unavailable. The receptionist asked if it would be alright if we could be put in a full suite as there was one available at no extra charge. We considered it for a femto-second before agreeing. Our rooms were ridiculous. The walls were covered in heavily patterned fabric and slightly squishy to the touch, the carpet was patterned and comfortable and the walls were painted a rich yellow apart from the pattern created by wood panelling. It was quite a strain on the eyes and certainly not somewhere I'd want to wake up with a thumping hangover: a time when one yearns for simpler, more austere design sensibilities.

We had a(nother) lazy lunch on the Porta Rossa at a restaurant owned by the Frescobaldi wine company. As well as delicious food they also offer wine "flights". A "flight" consists of three generous half glasses of a wine connected by a common theme, usually the grape variety. We picked the Sangiovese "flight" and it did not disappoint.

We were very disappointed in the evening when the restaurant that the guide book had recommended half poisoned me and T. The alarm bells rang when the caprese salad consisted of tomatoes that tasted of water and mozzarella that seemed made from inner tube. The wine was vinegary and I poured most of it into a flowerpot next to our table. Judging by the condition of the plant it contained I don't think was the first to do this. We had half a plate of really filthy pasta before calling it quits. Sadly I don't know anywhere near enough Italian to kick up a fuss so I'll just mention it here: don't eat at the restaurant called Napo Leone in Florence. I spent a mostly sleepless night feeling pretty sick and not looking forward to our last full day in the city at all.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Part Four: The Prettiest Prison and Torture Dungeon in the World


Day Four was the first day where we had nothing pre-planned or booked. Since we were totally in control of our own destinies we decided to visit another museum. We had walked past the Barghello several times on our various journeys around Florence and had marvelled at its imposing facade rising vertically with little in the way of ornament save a few iron hoops and the occasional solid, studded wooden door. It shouldn't really surprise you to learn that the lack of standard Italianate architectural frippery has much to do with the fact that the Barghello started out out as a prison, police station, magistrates and torture chamber. Delightful. I actually rather like the building, if for no other reason than it made a change from the relentless fancy window grilled, shuttered, cloistered, terracotta-tiled standard that makes up much of the rest of the city. I am a simple soul and Italian architecture and I don't really get along. It's not that I'm anti-pattern but I do believe that there is such a thing as moderation and that it can be a virtue. After the opulence of the Uffizi, the Barghello was a refreshing, though not exactly spartan change.

Once you've paid to enter you go through the wall you find that the whole structure is very much like a castle. There is a central courtyard with a large, deep well at the centre. Some kind and public spirited individuals had entertained themselves by throwing plastic bottles down it so the bottom isn't as medieval looking as it might be but the rest of the building seems to have remained unscathed. These days the Barghello's primary draw for tourists is that it houses much of the Uffizi's sculpture collection, featuring many works by Mr Atrocity's current favourite Ninja Turtle, Dontello. There are also pieces by Michelangelo, Danti, Giambolgna and Cellini. Of the bunch Michelangelo disappointed most for me with stand out works by Cellini, the base for his statue of Perseus being particularly good and Danti's triple sculpture of the beheading of John The Baptist.

All of these works were arrayed around this spectacular armoured palace. In addition to the sculpture there was also a great deal of ceramic, textile and metal work. In a few rooms items of furniture from the Renaissance were also on display. Though the Barghello was very quiet compared to the Uffizi and the Accademia there were still a few coach tours of retards who somehow found it. My jaw actually dropped open involuntarily when I saw a small party of obese, late middle-age philistines loudly stamp into a room and then dump all their bags on a fifteenth century table. The table was roped off but that clearly wasn't enough of a clue that it was an exhibit not a cloakroom. Unbelievable. I know I too was a tourist and I am sounding like snob because I am one but it really beggars belief when someone would take the effort to travel all the way to Florence and then not show any respect for the art it contains.

After another three course lunch we walked off some of the pasta course at least by pottering around Santa Croce which is a beautiful building in its own right but also has the tombs of Michelangelo (against his wishes apparently; he wanted to be buried in Rome), Machiavelli, Rossini and Galileo. There is also a monument to Dante though he isn't buried there as the city kicked him out in 1315 and then later regretted it when he became the founding father of Italian literature.

Looking Down the Arno

The evening saw us eat at another recommendation of the hotel, The Quattro Lione and though it was not as good as Natalino on Tuesday it did have some fantastic grilled chicken served with delicious local lemons. Once again we rolled ourselves back over the Arno and back to our digs to sleep it off.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Florence Part Three: The Office

Wednesday began with a walk to The Uffizi, the largest art gallery in Florence, formerly an administrative government building hence its name Uffizi - "offices". As with The Accademia we had been able to pre-book our tickets through the hotel weeks in advance. We had been strongly advised to do this by the hotel staff and the reason for this became abundantly clear as we approached. There were two queues. One had about thirty people in it and was for those with pre-booked tickets and the other queue stretched, as far as I could tell, over the curvature of the earth and was for those without a reservation. It had been pretty much the same story on the Tuesday at the Accademia. In classic Italian retailing style one had to collect ones tickets, using a reservation form from a completely different building than the actual entrance to the gallery and in further typical manner the notice that informed you of this was only visible once you'd reached the head of the queue and you had to lose your place as you scoot off to track down the reserved ticket collection office. Anyway, once all that had been sorted out we were allowed in.

I'm not going to write a review of The Uffizi as it would be a) impossible and b) redundant. The Uffizi is huge, absolutely massive and every wall is covered with masterpieces from the renaissance (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael) and onwards, Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli, and on and on. There are even representations from those outside Italy with a couple of beautiful Rembrandts and Dürers mixing in a Flemish influence. T and I had agreed that the only way, realistically, to get round the gallery is to take it a quite a speed and only really stop and look at something if it really grabbed us. If you tried to give every painting five or ten minutes you'd die in the attempt. The highlights for me was The Leonardo and the rooms of Raphael and Titian, both of which were extraordinary.

We retreated with our heads buzzing from a severe case of Sterndahl Syndrome to a trattoria for lunch where I had Crespelle alla Fiorentina, something I intend to have a go at making myself. The dish consists of a pancake (as in a crêpe style pancake) covered with a mixture of spinach and ricotta, rolled up, cut into three sections, arranged in a dish and then covered in a bechamel sauce. Sometimes some tomato would be added on top of that. Come winter I think this classic will prove a winner at dinner time.

In the afternoon we felt we'd recovered enough to take on another gallery and so we made our way to the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo which had been recommended by my chum S who is an art historian and whose opinion is to be trusted in matters such as these. The gallery itself is a modern spacious building with a clever arrangement of the rooms to allow daylight to illuminate most of the exhibits. The gallery features most of the works considered to important to remain outdoors on the exterior of the cathedral itself. These masterpieces have been replaced by copies, if we're being polite, fakes if we're being honest in their original locations and these are what the tourists wandering past are taking photos with their camera phones and probably know no different.


The range and quality of work in the gallery is quite staggering. There is a large number of statues by Donatello who is the Ninja Turtle whose work I knew least about before arriving in Florence. He is rapidly rising up the list of my favourite artists. While much renaissance sculpture is beautifully executed, it can often seem to be lacking in human spark, the figures seem too perfect, the poses too contrived. Donatello really manages to capture humanity, even in his more allegorical pieces. The faces seem to have lived a life and to have a story etched into them. He seems to do in sculpture what Rembrandt does in paint, that is capture the human experience and distill it to a powerful form. Really quite incredible stuff.

After this we really were cultured out and spent a quiet day mooching around the city and being astonished by the numbers of tourists barging around in huge groups like migrating wildebeest on the veldt. This, we felt, was too much so we retreated to our hotel room and read.

Florence is a Series of Corridors and Passageways


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Florence Part Two: The Classics

The first thing I experienced on the Tuesday morning was precisely how much the Italians do not do breakfast. The breakfast room had a few slices of bread, some fruit, yogurts and a couple of pastries. None of it felt very Italian and I rather get the impression that this melange came about as a result of hotel management realising that the majority of the clientele come from heavily breakfasting nations and so would require the meal but at the same time being unsure of what exactly it should consist. I had a good cappuccino, an apple and a bowl of yogurt with some prunes in it. None of it was spectacular but it was enough to keep body and soul together until lunch.

Tuesday's main attraction on our, for want of a better word I will call our itinerary though it wasn't really organised enough to justify the term, was The Accademia whose star attraction is, of course, Michelangelo's David. The whole gallery is pretty much centred around the statue and it has hard to curb your enthusiasm and not rush down the corridor which leads up to it. It is worth taking your time though as there are a group of four, unfinished statues by Michelangelo which line the way. I've never tried to carve anything out of stone but I'd always assumed that the general technique would be to carve the stone into roughly the right shape and then refine it down to its finished form. This does not seem to be how Michelangelo did things. Each of the four statues had areas that were finished, the surface work to a smooth, detailed finish, others had not been worked on at all. The overall effect was of a figure trying to drag itself out of the rock, quite eerie in its way.

Eventually you cave and go and see the big fella. It's a cliché to even say it but that makes it no less true: you don't really realise how big the statue is until you are next to it. When you are in the same space there are few things you begin to notice. It is an amazingly good piece of work and a tremendous achievement just in terms of its scale. It's also best viewed from the front angle we're all familiar with from photographs; from the side it's kinda, well I hate to say this, but ugly. The more you walk around it, the more you feel it's a sculpture executed by someone who is a painter foremost. It has a composition that works best in one direction, from a single viewpoint like a painting. I was amazed but perhaps not as much as I was expecting.

For Lunch we were planning on trying one of the small eateries on the Porta Rossa but that turned out to be unnecessary after we'd eaten two of the biggest ice-creams I've ever seen. We had popped into a gelaterie en route to lunch for a little appetizer as we walked. We pointed at a cone and asked for a couple of flavours. The guy began to pile ice-cream into our cones. And he continued to pile ice-cream for what seemed like a few minutes. What he eventually handed to us were a couple of medium sized cones surmounted by carefully sculpted lumps of ice-ream which probably displaced roughly the same volume as my head. I have a large head. Having sat and eaten our "appetizers" in the only quiet square we could find in the city (San Firenze) we felt we weren't quite as hungry as we had previously thought and so instead of more lunch we wandered around a little more.

Hercules and a Centaur

Reading in the Piazza della Signora

In the evening we went to a restaurant recommended by one of the guys who ran the hotel. It is called Natalino and it does not disappoint. We had a fantastic bottle of a Sangiovese based local wine and some excellent pasta to start. For my main course I had a Florentine Steak which turned out to be more like a half-cow than just a steak. It was juicy and delicious. Despite being stuffed it seemed rude not to have pudding and we forced down some wonderful tiramisu before rolling ourselves back to our hotel to sleep it all off.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Mr Atrocity's Grand Tour. Part One: The Getting There

I am returned safe and sound from Florence. T and I have had six nights there and it's been a really lovely holiday, principally because we got to spend a week together, without work interruption, for the first time since May last year. I obviously had preconceived ideas of what Florence would be like but in quite I few of them I turned out to be mistaken, in some ways good and in others, bad. This week I'll write up the holiday in exciting (hem hem) daily installments and I'll post up some of the pictures I took too, like this one:

The Ponte Vecchio

T is of the opinion that one should arrive in one's holiday destination as early as possible so that a day is not, as she puts it, "wasted". The result was a booking on a nine o'clock flight from London Gatwick. The practical upshot of that was that we had to awaken at three in the morning, get a cab to London Victoria railway station, take the Gatwick Express from there to the airport. Ouch.

As is my natural inclination I spent most of the Sunday night unable to sleep and fretting about everything that could go wrong en route. My chum ZF had tried to assuage my worries earlier in the week explaining that the worst that could possibly happen would be being med-evaced out of Italy. This didn't reassure me much. I was just about getting drowsy enough to properly sleep when the alarm went off and I fell out of bed. T, who had far too excited for her own good about the trip hadn't slept either but had got out of bed at one o'clock and had been checking she had remembered to pack everything she needed every ten minutes between that time and the time we left.

I'd booked us a cab to take us to the station and I have to say I love Addison Lee taxis. I booked online a few days in advance. Half an hour before the taxi was due to arrive I received a text message informing me that the car was on its way. This is perfect because that is just the time when you're wondering to yourself whether you booked the car for the right day or whether you mistakenly booked it for four in the afternoon. A few minutes later another text arrived. This one told me the car was outside, what make of car it was and gave me the driver's mobile phone number in case we needed his assistance. We decided we didn't and hauled our cases down and into the car which was exactly as described.

Ten minutes later we at the station. Three minutes after that we were on the Gatwick Express, a train with a single aim in life: to be the fastest thing between central London and Gatwick Airport seven days a week.

Once at the airport we went through the usual nonsense of checking our bags in, having our crevices searched and putting our shoes on a conveyor belt. Three hours later we were in the air on a beautiful clear day over Europe. We flew over the white cliffs of Dover and over the Alps which were utterly spectacular from the air. An hour and half after take-off we touched down in Pisa. Having found the station we discovered a delightful trait of Italian retailing that of putting the location of payment facilities for a thing nowhere near the thing itself. We trudged, with our cases, all the way back to the terminal, all the way through the terminal, back past where we had collected our bags until we found the enormous queue at the the Trenitalia ticket office. When it was our turn we shuffled forward and looking very embarrassed at out language skills asked for "Due biglietti a Firenze per favore". These we duly got and then we made our way back to the platform again. The train journey was uneventful. The train was perfectly on time and we stepped off at Florence Santa Maria Novella station and dragged our bags to our first hotel.

The Hotel Davanzati is a lovely, small, family run place with modern-ish styling and an unfussy but highly conscientious manner. We checked in and crashed in our room for an hour or so before finding the energy to venture out for dinner. We ate in a diner on the first night. What we both needed after a long day travelling was something simple and a beer to accompany it. My pizza (not a classic Florentine dish but I didn't care) was fine but anything after 12 hours without food was welcome and so with that we went to bed ready to explore properly in the morning.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Slack Blogging Behaviour

Again almost a whole week without posting. Sorry folks but it's been hectic. On Monday, T and I are off to Florence for a week. This cannot come soon enough for either of us. Our last proper holiday away together was last May to New York and we really needed this one. In order to ensure peace of mind for me there was a whole bunch of work/briefing I had to get done at the studio before I could leave. I managed most of it but it meant that there wasn't much time for anything else (like writing here for example).

It's one of the frustrations of supervising a whole project is that I am suddenly directly responsible for a lot things directly and I am directly responsible to our clients so if I screw up I get the angry e-mails. It's been the angry e-mail prevention tactics that have consumed the time.

I did manage to see my last Prom concert of the summer on Tuesday though, and I thought it one of the best. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Bernard Haitink played Shostakovich's 4th Symphony. I always like the 4th more than I remember. It's the first of his symphonies where I think I see the style that categorises the later, more famous works (7th and 8th symphonies especially). In the 4th I really get the impression that Shostakovich has thought, "Wow, I have a whole orchestra here, what can I do with them?" and then proceeds to try out a whole host of ideas, some of which come to fruition in the later works. There's the haunting oboe solos, the incessant percussion, the dissonance followed by more sweeping romantic passges and there's a gorgeous part where a solo violin is accompanied by two harps playing chords in the lower part of their register: unique and beguiling. Having had a fairly rough week at work it really lifted my spirits and cleansed my soul to hear such magical music. I love Haitink's conducting of Shostakovich. Apart from an elderly Fritz Reiner recording I have, all my Shostakovich CDs are the Haitink versions.

On Thursday I went out, rather briefly, to say "Hi" and then "Bye" to TR, who is now off back to Seattle and from there to become a citizen of the world. It is always sad when friends leave but the industry I work in is highly cosmopolitan and so there is a constant coming and going of friends to and from the City. In happier news as TR leaves my buddy ZF flies in from California so we're swapping one super smart American woman for another. There must be some sort of quota system in operation of which I am not aware.

Right, well I'm going to start tidying the flat and beginning to pack for Florence. I have purchased a fistful of memory cards for my camera so expect pictures upon my return. I'll try to avoid cliché if I can but there'll probably be some - I suspect it's unavoidable. Happy weekends everybody and I'll write more in a week upon my return.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Quick Update

I had a pretty good weekend all told. Saturday was spent mooching around town and then cooking veggie lasagne and chocolate and chestnut mousse for our pal ZF who has just moved from California. She came over to Schossadlerflug in the evening and we ate drank and were merry until about 2 a.m. where she went for her first experience of the London night buses and all the adventures that they can provide.

On Sunday we played Spore, which is amazing. I think hard-core gamers aren't going to like it much because it's very much a journey rather than destination type game. Winning (if that's the term) isn't really the heart of what makes it great. If you don't get a small tingle of joy at seeing your own 6 legged and 4 armed monster hatch from an egg and stomp about the landscape in search of something to eat then it's probably not going to really appeal to you as a game.

I also spent the afternoon finishing off this biography of John Dee, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, mystic, alchemist, scientist, probably spy and advisor to Queen Elizabeth 1st. I'd been wanting to read something of him for a while that went further than the angel summoning and mysticism with which he is most famously associated these days and this book was it. He was a fascinating man with a wide-ranging mind at a time when religion, the occult and science were all so enmeshed as to be almost inseparable. A good read. I received the book nine days previously and for me to read 350 pages in that time is unusual so it must have been good.

Tonight I shall be playing more Spore I think; these planets don't get conquered by themselves you know.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Courgettezilla (or Zucchini Kong)

My work chum WCC has a garden. In this garden he grows vegetables of astonishing size. I ilke to imagine it's like the garden in Woody Allen's Sleeper. When he is sick of eating his own produce he brings some into work for us. Today he gave me the monster you see above. He assures me it's a courgette. I think it's a marrow but he says not. Anyway I have just spent a good while hacking it into tiny pieces and making courgette soup. I have made enough to feed a hundred people for a week, or a hungry me and T for at least three nights. Ah, nature's bounty is a wondrous (and occasionally vast) thing.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 01, 2008

Strangeness: From the Mail

Here's a weird one for you. I received the above in the mail the other day. On the flip side is my address, nothing more. I don't recognise the art and I can't think of anyone I know, who has my postal address, who would send such a thing. It was posted from Leeds, which again is strange because I can't think of anyone who lives, or even visits, there. Perhaps there is some dark portent hidden within the wiggly lines? Or perhaps someone I know went there for the day and decided to play silly buggers with me. Anyway, it is my mini Voynich Manuscript and there is a reward for the first person to decipher its meaning.

Labels: ,