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Parkrun, United Kingdom 17/01/2012

parkrun for your life

Parkrun, United Kingdom parkrun. One word, all lower case - that is very important. They take this branding stuff very seriously at parkrun towers. parkrun. The clue’s in the name: It’s about running. In parks. parkrun review. This isn’t a review, parkrun is an ongoing and ever growing beast and reviewing the event I attended last week (or the week before) will not be relevant. This will be more of an introduction into the world of parkrun and the joys to be found therein. parkrun is/are free, weekly, timed 5k runs held in dozens of parks around the UK and the wider world. They are organised, open to anyone and very easy to enter. Just turn up, start with everyone else and finish in your own good time. And then have some cake. Let me give you some background. In 2004 the first parkrun was held in Bushy Park, West London with a dozen or so entrants. At the time this was the only weekly 5k event and it slowly grew in popularity until a couple of years later another event was set up in Wimbledon to cope with the demand, soon followed by one at Banstead Woods. The format was clearly a success and the concept of taking parkrun around the country was born. Bushy Park still hosts a weekly parkrun and remains its spiritual home but now, wherever you are in England, there is likely to be a weekly event not too far away. In the wider UK they are mainly centred on capital cities but are inexorably spreading out into new areas all the time. Unofficially it feels like it is growing by an event a ...

Ragged School Museum, Limehouse, London 13/01/2012

Baggy Trousers

Ragged School Museum, Limehouse, London As eagerly well intentioned parents of primary school age children I count myself very lucky to live in London and therefore be thoroughly spoilt for choice for places to take them on day trips. From the big free to enter Science, Natural History and British Museums through historical buildings and monuments and on to the newer, paid for, attractions like the aquarium there is more than enough to fill many years worth of half terms and Easter breaks. And yet, and yet. There is always the urge to find something new, something perhaps under the radar with which, partly to score some points at the school gates, but mainly to give the kids something new and different to think about. That is exactly what the Ragged School Museum is. A place that embodies so much that is good and positive in its management and intention that it is easy to over look just how effective it is in engaging and educating visiting children. Top tip alert: if you are also an eagerly well intentioned parent who wants to find places to take your children then check out the web sites for the best schools in your area and see what trips they have under taken recently. Invariably you will turn up interesting, if not necessarily well advertised, places that will be well worth a visit. That’s how we found out about this place. In the late 18th century the provision of education to the poor children of working class families in the growing industrial towns around the country was virtually nonexistent. In these ...

Gear4 UnityRemote 04/05/2011

Be the god of the remote controls

Gear4 UnityRemote Do you ever look at your iPhone and think; “I wish it could do more”? Of course you don’t. Right out of the box it already does more than you thought a phone could ever do and a few minutes spent in the App Store will result in your iPhone doing stuff you never imagined and pretty quickly realise you can’t live without. When you’ve had an iPhone for a while you begin to take this for granted, to the point where should you pay a visit to the App Store and not come away with something awesome you feel personally let down. This is rare though and this review is the story of one of my more useful visits. I’m not sure where to start this story without giving the game away and making it all sound too glib but suffice to say, as is so often the case, an app came along that neatly and efficiently solved a problem I didn’t know I had and in a way that is now utterly indispensible. So, what was the problem? Well, towards the end of last year I felt the need to update my TV setup. Although I already had a nice big-screen plasma it wasn’t fully HD and I felt I was missing out. Obviously, being married, this willy-nilly upgrading isn’t straight forward so I had to start by explaining the need to upgrade our cable to the lovely Virgin V+ HD service. Easy enough first step and quickly followed by explaining the need to upgrade the telly to a fancy LCD HD one. A fancy HD telly would be a waste without a decent Blu-Ray player feeding into it and with all that lovely HD coming out of the ...

Charge Mixer 2010 Hybrid Bike 28/05/2010

Mix it up

Charge Mixer 2010 Hybrid Bike Charge Mixer I used to dabble in a lot of sports, not that I was particularly good at any of them but the beauty of sports is that you can usually find your competitive level and have some fun. Over the years a lot of these sports have dropped by the wayside as work and family have encroached on the time available and participation has become sporadic at best. It is a strange paradigm that as family life has reduced the time spent on the playing field it has equally increased the time spent in National Trust tea shops. Now, as we all know the National Trust has one main raison d’etre and that is to provide customers with a wide choice of lovely, home-made cakes. They also maintain historic estates, landscapes and whatnot but it’s pretty much all about the cakes. So it is that following the inescapable lifestyle equation of Passing Years minus Sporting Activity plus National Trust Cake the inevitable result is an extra pound or two around your Bottom Line. C’est la vie. I used to do a lot of cycling as well, not as a sport but as a practical way of getting around, but when I made the tragic move from north of the river to south my comfortable 10 mile commute became an unrealistic 20 mile challenge and slowly but surely my cycling declined to the point where when my last bike bit the dust several years ago it wasn’t replaced. But time marches on and I recently found myself missing the old bike so I started giving some serious thought to getting back on two wheels. By ...

Championship Manager 2010 Express (iPhone) 11/02/2010

Is it morning already?

Championship Manager 2010 Express (iPhone) Eidos - Championship Manager 2010 Express Is it morning already? This is a familiar refrain from any of those caught in the insidious grip of this game over the last dozen years or so and with this latest incarnation the same time-warping capabilities are now available on my phone. Many games are addictive, many get under your skin and threaten to over take you but I suspect that Championship Manager (and its various incarnations which I’ll cover later) is the most addictive, un-putdownable game ever made. Now available as an App for use on the iPhone or iPod Touch it would seem, at first glance, a natural fit for the handheld, but how it has coped with this transition will form a large part of this review as well as its ongoing playability and value for money. But first; a bit of history. Dreaded words in a review, I know, but totally relevant here. Trust me. What is Championship Manager? (Very briefly) At the beginning of the game you become the manager of (depending on the version you’re playing) pretty much any professional football team in the world. You then control transfers, tactics, training, team selection etc and watch them play through season after season until either you get bored or you get sacked. At which point you roll back to the beginning and start again. The Beginning The story begins in 1992 and like the best stories about computing involves a couple of geeks fiddling around in their bedroom. Paul and Oliver Collyer had the idea and ...

Tana Ramsay's Real Family Food - Tana Ramsay 16/01/2010

Cooking the obvious

Tana Ramsay's Real Family Food - Tana Ramsay Real Family Food - Tana Ramsay We got this cook book a year or so back, that would be Christmas 2008 if you’re reading this in the future, as a present from my niece. It was very sweet and thoughtful of her, I mean she is a grown up and everything but we do like cooking and trying new things, without being too adventurous, so this book is probably pitched at the right level for us and it was nice that she’d given it some thought. It’s just a bit of a shame that it is probably the lamest cook book I’ve ever read. This book is aimed squarely at that wonderful advertisers dream: the busy mum. Ideally the kind of busy mum who is nicely middle class with oodles of disposable, a kitchen the size of a squash court and children who have to wear hats to school. It intends to offer a range of recipes and meal options that are easy to make, acceptable to children and grown ups alike and won’t cost the earth or require esoteric ingredients. As the blurb says: 'Tana's trademark simple and delicious recipes make it easy to cook fabulous food every day whether you want to rustle up dinner in a flash, impress the in-laws over a big family lunch or linger over brunch in your pyjamas'. How nice. Unfortunately, what we are given is page after page of pointless recipes and descriptions of food that you could probably have worked out yourself. Confused by Cheese-on-Toast? Panicked by Baked Potatoes? This is the book for you. All right, not quite true but you get the idea. ...

Doors Open - Ian Rankin 13/11/2009

Doors Closing

Doors Open - Ian Rankin Doors Open - Ian Rankin Before I talk about the book ‘Doors Open’ written by Ian Rankin let me tell you a little story of my own. Many years ago I was the chief cashier in a branch of a high street bank. It was a small branch with a low foot flow of customers. However, it was in the very wealthy Belgravia area of London so what customers we did have were of the well heeled variety, premiership footballers and senior politicians were regulars. Even if they weren’t famous many of our customers were titled and came from famous families. These customers requested a lot of cash over the counter so we would hold rather more in our safe than similar sized branches elsewhere. Most weeks this would be around two to three hundred thousand pounds, at busy times it could reach perhaps three quarters of a million pounds. The money was held in a safe, the safe was in a vault secured by a barred gate during the day and a thick steel door over night. Once sealed, the alarm would be set; the alarm was monitored but not time-locked and each member of staff had their own code. Each stage required two key holders (red and blue for differentiation) who would have the keys and combinations for one half of each lock. Half the branch staff would be red key holders and the other would be blue. I was a red key holder. My colleague, a blue key holder, and I would regularly go for a post work drink and do you know what we often discussed? Robbing the bank, obviously. Or, more exactly; ...

The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke 19/10/2009

Let me tell you about Katrina

The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke The Tin Roof Blowdown - James Lee Burke I never had any intention of reviewing another James Lee Burke / Detective Robicheaux novel. He is a writer I have long admired and I continue to draw much enjoyment from all the Robicheaux books, but in all honesty they are not hugely different from each other and having articulated the reasons I’d enjoyed one I would have been largely repeating myself to review any others. However, that was until I read The Tin Roof Blowdown. In many ways this is the book that Burke has been waiting to write or, to put it another way, the book I’ve been waiting for him to write. You see, Burke builds his Dave Robicheaux stories on the colourful backdrop of Louisiana, the Deep South and New Orleans and these are invested with as much narrative care and attention as the leading characters. Burke has such a passion for the region, its beauties and its glory but is never afraid to shine a light on its shortcomings. Its violence, its racism and its corruption are all exposed but never allowed to overwhelm the affection he holds for it. So when New Orleans and swathes of the gulf coast were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 I knew that one day Burke would have to address this and I knew it would be worth reading. It’s hard to over estimate the impact, both physically and culturally, that the hurricane had on New Orleans, the United States and indeed the wider world. That so much devastation and human suffering could be visited on such a ...

An Utterly Impartial History Of Britain - John O'Farrell 30/09/2009

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain

An Utterly Impartial History Of Britain - John O'Farrell An Utterly Impartial History of Britain Learning things is fun. Well, that’s what I tell my daughter now that she’s started school anyway. But it is true, increasing the sum of your knowledge is enriching and empowering and for this reason I like to mix up some educational non fiction on my daily commute amongst the normal run of pot boilers and pulp fiction. Now, as much as I like to learn things I don’t really want to have to think too hard if I can help it so most of these books need to be pitched at the right level. That might mean that they are aimed at a populist audience but as often as not it means they are written with an eye to the humour as much as the subject matter. So it was that this book caught my eye in Borders when I was spending some book tokens given to me by former colleagues last Christmas. I’m not that familiar with the writer; John O’Farrell, I believe he writes for the Guardian and has been a comedy writer for some years but I haven’t knowingly read or seen his work in the past. I had seen him on various ‘Have I Got News for You’ type panel shows and ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and he was usually entertaining enough without really standing out. The jacket art work grabbed my attention initially and the blurb made me chuckle. History, especially the history of your own country, is one of those things that you feel you have a pretty good handle on but you also know that you are probably just one follow up question away from ignorance. We may not have ...

Taken (DVD) 07/09/2009

Taken for a ride

Taken (DVD) Scouting around for some films to watch I came across Taken, starring Liam Neeson. An action thriller following a father searching for his kidnapped daughter all the ingredients are there for cracking blockbuster entertainment but is it worth sacrificing two hours of your life for? In a word: No. I’m not going to beat about the bush here; I thought this film was a big let down, a ludicrous disappointment. I wish I hadn’t bothered and I’m going to tell you why. Synopsis ~ Liam Neeson is David. Aging, lonely and out of touch with his estranged daughter his is not a happy existence. He plays cards or does some low rent security work with his buddies but his main thoughts are how to fill the time until he can see his daughter again. At her birthday he is marginalised as his (frankly rubbish) karaoke machine present is blown out of the water by her stepfather buying her a pony. That’s heavy handed plot set-up #1 by the way - he’s devoted to his daughter but is thought by one and all to be surplus to requirements. Next we see him working security for some pop pixie (Holly Vallance in a career high role). As he is escorting her from the stage a ‘crazed’ knifeman jumps out but is swiftly dealt with via some canny martial arts magic. That’ll be heavy handed plot set-up #2 - he’s a bit useful in a fight. In case we weren’t sure a conversation with his daughter establishes that he was some kind of CIA / Secret Services spook who spent his career making sure bad things didn’t ...

Life On Mars - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) 24/07/2009

Hail the Gene Genie

Life On Mars - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) It’s a God awful small affair I clearly remember when Life on Mars first hit our screens. Heavily promoted by the BBC there were posters everywhere; bus stops, on the underground and in the papers and I have to say first impression were positive. First up was the star, John Sims. One of our best young actors, hugely underrated I’d seen him in several very different roles but not once seen him put a foot wrong. Then there was the other bloke, I won’t pretend I knew his name at the time but I’d seen him in a couple of shows and been struck by his ability and charisma on screen. Next up was the premise, a cop show clearly but also a time travelling cop show. An entertaining idea but not exactly what you’d call original, it’s one of those Sci-Fi devices that gets recycled every ten years or so (the other is the old body swap chestnut currently being performed by Zac Ephron and Matthew Perry in 17 Again) where a contemporary character is sent back into the past or a future character brought back to our times. So, anyway, with my appetite whetted did I go on and watch the series? No, I didn’t. In recent years I’ve become a bit rubbish at watching telly and can never keep up with the channels and the schedules. Don’t get me wrong, I watch as much as the next potato but tend to stick to DVDs or reruns of QI and Top Gear on Dave. I finally got around to watching the series when those lovely people at Virgin Media stuck it on their free On Demand service (I’ve been giving that ...

Dream Story - Arthur Schnitzler 17/06/2009

Dream Story - Arthur Schnitzler

Dream Story - Arthur Schnitzler At work we have a lounge. It’s a very nice lounge with comfy chairs and a view over the atrium. It’s a place where you can have a break-out meeting or a little quiet time, it is also popular with non smokers looking to take advantage of the hourly ten minute breaks their puffing buddies appear to be entitled to. In this lounge is a selection of books, left by community minded colleagues. As you can imagine there is an awful lot of jumble sale tat fodder here but the odd interesting book has been known to turn up. Alongside the usual crime/historical pot boilers this little number stood out. I mean, Arthur Schnitzler? Who ever heard of him. Well, not me anyway but the back cover blurb was intriguing. Regarding the man it went as follows: ‘Like his Viennese contemporary Sigmund Freud, the doctor and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) was a bold pioneer in exploring the dark tangled roots of human sexuality.’ And for the book itself it read thus: ‘Schnitzler is probably most famous for la Ronde, a play whose daisy chain of couplings was too scandalous to be published or performed in his lifetime. Dream Story is an equally erotic work, in which a married couple are first traumatised and then achieve a new depth of understanding by confessing to each other their sexual fantasies, dream-like adventures and might-have-beens…’ Time to pull on the clever trousers and read on, I thought. The book starts with a comprehensive introduction by Frederic Raphael. I often find ...

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 02/06/2009

It's a Mini but not a Cooper

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 This is something of a two-fold review. Mainly it will cover the Dell Mini9 netbook, which is after all the heading under which it is filed, but inevitably it will also cover the Vodafone mobile broadband contract under which it was bought. Computing has gone through a bit of an upheaval recently. Things used to be so much more straightforward; ever since I bought my first PC the standard domestic buyer would need to spend about £1000 to get something that could cope with all their needs, for a couple of years at least. When that machine began to show it’s age you’d buy another for the same price but with a specification to match the current needs. This was true of the first three or four PCs I bought and only the most recent allowed me to spend under £800 and stay current. The same was broadly true of laptops, prohibitively expensive in the early days for quite a while they would cost a little more than a desktop and offer slightly lower performance but again the price would remain fairly constant while the specifications increased. This was all blown out of the water a couple of years ago when Asus produced the EeePC that was, frankly, nothing short of revolutionary. Whereas before you paid a premium for miniaturisation here a mainstream supplier had gone completely the other way and was offering a fully-fledged, yet tiny, laptop for peanuts (about £200 anyway). These days all the key manufacturers provide small, cheap laptops (although as these are often noticeably ...

Exit Music - Ian Rankin 21/04/2009

It's been emotional

Exit Music - Ian Rankin Ah, let’s slip into something more comfortable shall we? A new Inspector Rebus story is usually a time for celebration and the welcome return of the familiar. Through sixteen previous adventures we have come to know and love John Rebus and the opportunity to get into a new episode is the reading equivalent of slipping on a comfy fleece and watching a Bond film one more time. Exit Music is the seventeenth stop on the long journey of Edinburgh’s finest and as the name suggests the curtain is soon to close on his gloriously inglorious career. But before he goes gentle into that good night there is one more case and several glaring loose ends that need resolving. The case involves the violent death of a Russian dissident poet and the loose ends include several unsolved cases and the fact that his long time nemesis, local gangster Morris Gerald Cafferty, remains at large and just beyond the reach of the long arm of the law. This last fact gnaws deep into Rebus’ soul and feeds his anger and remaining ambitions. Synopsis~ The story opens with the discovery of the badly beaten body of Alexander Todorov, the apparent victim of a mugging gone wrong. This seemingly undemanding case is given to Rebus to keep him busy for his final few days before his retirement. As he works through the statements and the victim’s background he sees links to the new Scottish Parliament, a group of visiting Russian businessmen and most tantalisingly a link to his old enemy Cafferty. Could there be ...

Stark- Ed Bunker 28/03/2009

Stark - Ed Bunker

Stark- Ed Bunker There are a couple of things that are pretty remarkable about the book ‘Stark’. Firstly, the author was a life long career criminal who’d spent the majority of his time in juvenile and adult prison. Secondly, it was written in 1962 yet in language and construction is as modern as it is possible to imagine. Thirdly, despite the writer achieving wide ranging acclaim and success as an author and some-time film actor this book went unknown and unpublished until after his death. For those steeped in popular culture the name of Ed Bunker will be very familiar, others may not have heard of him at all. To fill in the gaps let me provide a little background, as Mr Bunker is a very interesting character indeed and to know him a little better will greatly improve your appreciation and respect for his work. Born in 1933 Bunker’s early life was a round of foster homes and institutions after his family broke up when he was five. Resentment led to trouble and he soon came to the attention of the authorities and before the age of 14 he’d already racked up several years and several escapes from juvenile detention. By the age of 16 he was heading for adult prison and became the youngest inmate of San Quentin Prison. It was over the next few years that his first forays into writing began. Through a generous patron he got his first typewriter and on parole was given opportunities to work and stay straight. The lure of the easy win grew too strong to resist, however, and Bunker was soon ...
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