Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2013

In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson

I believe that reading a novel that is part of a series, having not read any of the preceding books, is a little like jumping into an ice-cold plunge pool. It has the potential to leave you feeling a sense of shock and bewilderment, but equally can have some benefits. I'm not sure into which category this novel falls.
In a Dry Season (1999) is the tenth in a series of novels by Peter Robinson focussing on Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. Being a little late to the DCI Banks party, and never having watched the television adaptations being broadcast on ITV, by the time of this novel, the protagonist has separated from his wife, has a somewhat dubious reputation with women and his career as a detective is grinding to a halt.
The action commences when, during a period a drought, a reservoir dries up revealing the remains of a deserted village that had been submerged following the building of a damn after the Second World War. A young boy, making the most of the adventures to be f…

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

Continuing my summer tradition of a James Bond novel on the beach, this year on Anse des Sables in Vieux Fort, Saint Lucia, is something I look forward to with relish. Under a palm tree, with rum near to hand and an expanse of turquoise sea in front of me, I read From Russia With Love (1957) – the fifth book in the James Bond series.
Despite the modern reputation Ian Fleming’s novels enjoy, in 1956 he wasn’t satisfied that they were commercially successful enough. With this in mind From Russia With Love saw Bond at a crossroads and the writer's approach demonstrates this.
In a slight departure from previous Bond novels, the first part of the novel deals exclusively with SMERSH formulating a plan to strike the Secret Service’s top man, James Bond. The reader is drawn into the meticulous construction of an airtight plan – the target, the beautiful bait, the exotic location, the risk of scandal and the right man for the execution.
The characters working for SMERSH seem even more ext…

Autumnal Sunset Over Hammersmith

Autumnal sunsets over cities have the power to stir my soul, like mountains and oceans do. After another busy day of talking non-stop to colleagues, teaching classes of students, conducting one-to-ones, and jumping over a variety of obstacles thrown in my direction, I looked out of the window of the classroom I was working in.
It is Wednesday 4th December 2013, and to the east I can see the bright orange reflection of the sunset shining back off the blue-tinted glass of the Empress State Building on the Earl's Court and West Brompton border. The radiance of it leads me to leave the room I am in - there are no classes at this time - and I head to my favourite place in the building. The roof.
Stood on the roof, three storeys up, my thoughts a million miles away, I breathe in the cold early evening air to the background noise of Hammersmith. The sirens fail to crash through and break my peace of mind and the light shining off the glass seems to rebound and silently fight off the fai…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Zondag Zonneschijn en Tot Ziens!

Alright, if you insist on booking a trip to mainland Europe to take place during February then you expect grey skies, clouds pregnant with impending snow storms and ice-cold temperatures. To this realisation I am willing to concede, but I do like a surprise.
It is Sunday 17th February and the sun is shining in the cold winter air and there are but a few wisps of cloud in the vast blue sky.
Accompanied by Emma and Pia, I head to breakfast at the Bizar again. It seems I really can’t get enough of rubbing my clean-living ways into the faces of the two other teachers. Envy doesn’t really rear its head as they tuck into more duizend-gaten-flensje. The joke is once more on the guy with the gluten allergy who has no other option on the menu.
After breakfast I have my first real mission of the day. I need to head off to the station and buy a ticket for my Italian student. She’s heading to Rome for the half-term and is flying directly from Amsterdam Schipol a good few hours before the rest of…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Stil in Amsterdam

Maybe I’m becoming softer in my old age, but for some inexplicable reason I’ve allowed everyone to have a lie in. I regularly enjoy infuriating my colleagues and students with my ‘morning person’ ways. Today, though, I need a lie-in too.
It is Saturday 16th February 2013 and I am assembling the things I need for the day ahead. Although nowhere near as cold as this time last year, it is still very nippy. The upside of this is that I can leave my sun lotion, sunglasses, swimming trunks and towel at the hotel and travel light. With my trusty satchel sorted, the slightly hyperactive students gathered and a grumpy Pia woken up, we board the bus for the brief trip down the A4 to Amsterdam.
With the opportunity for a little quiet time lying ahead, we first embark on a boat ride around the labyrinthine canals of Amsterdam. Whilst taking in the information of talking guide – all of which I have forgotten by the time of writing this – I can’t help but wonder how anyone could ever have navigate…

Cycling: Not All Glamour

I enjoy my cycle commute to work. I've progressed from being a twice a week, fair-weather cyclist, to being a four days a week, almost all-weather cyclist. My fitness has improved, I have lost a fair amount of weight and I arrive to work most mornings buzzing on endorphins.
I've recently had a full service at Caballo on Chatsworth Road in Hackney. My bike, named Sasha, is running like a dream. Along with new brakes and a full strip-down, clean and rebuild, I've had a new rear cassette with a 11-28T range.
There was one thing I didn't change though: my tyres. With 2,500km on the Garmin, the rear tyre was looking a little worse for wear, but I had my eyes on a set of Specialized Roubaix tyres. As if fate decreed, riding full pelt up Shaftesbury Avenue, a popping sound came from my rear wheel.
In the oppressive heat and with sweat dripping from everywhere, I was forced to pull off the road, park up on the pavement, and set about replacing the inner tube. After removing t…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Oude en Nieuwe Plaatsen

With education budgets ever-tightening in the UK and The Netherlands, this year’s trip has had to be done with even less money than before. One benefit of this has meant making the students self-cater at breakfast, albeit under the auspices of learning ‘good life skills’.
It is Friday 15th February 2013 and I’m having a gezond ontbijt [healthy breakfast] from the menu at the Bazar restaurant. The healthy breakfast consists of mild Turkish yoghurt, fruit salad, honey and a glass of fresh orange juice. I add to this a couple of coffees. My colleagues Emma and Pia are tucking into a duizend-gaten-flensje [thousand holes pancake] adorned with a variety of sweet things. 
Both of them eye my healthy breakfast. Should they have gone for this option? Don’t be stupid. Of course not. That’s the kind of breakfast a guy with a gluten allergy would be forced to acquiesce to. Well, either way, I enjoyed it and after coffee number two I am buzzing like a bumble bee and ready to go.
Whilst Emma and …

Lazing on a Sunny Afternoon, Dreaming of Cricket

At this time of year the sound of a weary red leather ball cracking off the face of a beaten-up old cricket bat would usually fill my Sunday afternoons. Playing for The Swinging Googlies Cricket Club – albeit very badly – is one of the highlights of my summer weekends. 
Now well into June, having missed The Googlies’ first and only match so far this season, I am beginning to get some serious cricketing-related withdrawal. With the match that I should have been playing in today cancelled due to inclement weather, I am likely to start outwardly showing signs of mania soon. 
On Sunday 2nd June 2013 I at least got to see some others playing whilst I sunbathed in Springfield Park, Hackney. From a little research I have found the teams playing were The Coach and Horses C.C. hosting Shakespeare C.C. in a friendly – I am unsure who was who, but I think the fielding team were the Coach and Horses due to the 'home support' they were getting.
One thing is for sure, Springfield Park is v…

Het Withstraat Dagboek: Welkom Terug!

I have a problem. It’s a problem that I have had for a number of years and constantly threatens to get in the way of my travelling to destinations near or far. This problem is being a last minute packer.
It is Thursday 14th February and as a result of finishing my packing at midnight, and my taxi to Heathrow arriving at 3am, I feel as if someone has stitched-shut my eyelids. The driver patiently asks me where to pick up my colleague Pia, and I respond saying I haven’t got a clue. Luckily, as we drive though Walthamstow’s empty streets the waving figure of Pia’s mum flags down the taxi before we go straight past.
At this early hour, there are already many certainties about Pia: that I will be ‘tagged’ in a Facebook update, that as a result of coffee deprivation she won’t be able to converse effectively and that she’s likely to become very insulting at short notice.
Upon arrival at Heathrow, I guide Pia through the doors and towards the already sizeable group of waiting students. Unbek…

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I have often been unsure about where in the grand scheme of all things literary Maya Angelou fits. Last August, whilst considering my teaching options for AS Level literature, the decision was reached to switch from teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife to Angelou’s collection And Still I Rise.
In the absence of the ubiquitous York Notes to provide information on the poetry, it made sense to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings not only to shed some light on the context of the poetry, but to answer a nagging question: who is Maya Angelou?
Caged Bird is the 1969 autobiography of Angelou’s early years in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, in the USA, through to the age of seventeen. As soon as you learn that she is living with her paternal grandmother, Momma, you realise that her family history is bound to be laced with complexities and confusion. A recurrent theme is the pervading sense of abandonment felt by Maya and her older brother Bailey at the hands of h…

Wood Farm Brewery, Warwickshire

In the words of Alanis Morissette, the situation was distinctly 'ironic'. The rain was falling from the sky by the bucketload, and a minor gale blowing, as I arrived at Wood Farm, a small brewery outside Rugby in Warwickshire.
It is Saturday 11th May and Page, one of the heroes of January's London-Brighton bike ride, is getting hitched to Siobhan.
Once the clouds had cleared, sometime around 7pm, the sunshine made a brief cameo just long enough to take a couple of lovely pictures. All the better considerings the guests to this wedding party, myself included, were camping! After the tents were pitched, it was into the main marquee for a night of live music, dancing and merriment.
Any comments about Page not being able to organise the proverbial were allayed and the wedding went smoothly.

The Bakiga Window Vol. II - Taufiq Islamic School - Part Two

After what has been undoubtedly the most difficult trip to Uganda I’ve ever taken part in, our last day in Kabale has finally come around. The previous morning’s work went a long way towards cleansing the bad memories of more turbulent moments on this visit.
It is Wednesday 11th April 2012 and I am walking down Johnstone Road towards Taufiq Islamic Primary School, for our second morning of activities. The sun has already ripped through the perennial sheet of mist and the dull whines of boda-bodas are already filling the air.
In contrast to yesterday’s welcome, we arrive to a silent yard. A solitary boy in the green and white hooped uniform peers from around the side of the mosque before shuffling off in a cloud of dust. All we need now is the stereotypical tumbleweed of an American Western film to roll across in front of us.
As we near the main school building Lule appears from within and accosts us. I ask him, “What have you done with all the children?”
His reply comes punctuated wi…

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: Taufiq Islamic School - Part One

It is a perennial frustration of mine that during every visit to Uganda, the more involved I become in the organisation of the trip, the less time I actually have to work on projects with people I meet there. With the small dust particles of free time that I have had over the years, I have been starting to build trust and friendship with a few members of Kabale's Muslim community.
It is Tuesday 10th April 2012 and I am sheltering from the heat of the morning sun in the mosque by Taufiq Islamic Primary School. With me I have nearly all of my students and a handful of staff interested in finding out more about a part of Kabale that lies off most kizungu radars.
Having met with the head teacher, Lule, earlier in the week, we had arranged that during my group’s final two mornings in Kabale we would come to Taufiq to find out more about day-to-day life there. We also arranged to do a couple of fun lessons for the pupils as a break from their exam revision.
We scheduled our arrival for…

Beach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk

Safely back from my annual visit to Rotterdam, my parents invited me to spend a few days with them in a small holiday cottage in Southwold, Suffolk. Give or take driving through Newmarket a few years back when studying at Anglia Ruskin University, I'd never really seen much of the county.
Southwold itself is a beautiful seaside resort which happens to be the home of Adnams, a well known brewery, which means that for a small place there are a healthy number of pubs - suddenly Dad's choice of location made sense.
On the early afternoon of Wednesday 20th February I took a walk to the Harbour Inn to meet my parents for lunch. The pub was just under two miles away from Grace Cottage, where we were staying. This gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the sea.
On our way towards the see we also spotted Georgie Glen from Waterloo Road humming happily to herself on the High Street.
Southwold is lovely, photogenic and friendly in the iciness of February, so one can only imagi…

London to Brighton: Part Three - Countryside nr. Gatwick to Brighton Pier

Heading up Turners Hill
If we were in Uganda, with the sun at the angle it was by around 10am, we would be baking to a crisp. As it was, at 10am, we were crossing the county border into West Sussex and despite the sun beating down on us, it was still pretty cold. 
After a brief flirtation with an A road, we started a three mile decent towards the foot of Turner’s Hill. With the others tailing off into the distance slightly, I tried to build up some decent momentum with which to attack the climb.
The hill is a category 5 climb, but seemed very different to Marlpit Hill earlier on in the day. Maybe it was the fact that the blood was circulating more freely around my body now, but I seemed to make reasonably light work of the half-mile climb. Before I knew it, I was at the village green at the top of the hill and the ‘half-way jitters’ had not even had chance to appear. Maybe I am getting better at climbing.
Page followed up the hill about three minutes behind, with Jonesy around five mi…

King's Cross Station, London

You might not think that a railway station would make the most interesting photographic subject, but I can safely say they can. The new departures concourse at King's Cross railway station in London has been completed for nearly a year now, but I very rarely have any reason to be in the area and so this interesting work of architecture had slipped from my mind.
On Saturday 9th February I happened to appear from the Victoria Line straight into the new concourse - more by accident than design. I had seen pictures of it on BBC London News on the opening night, but standing beneath this flow of illuminated ironwork I was awestruck by its beauty. 
Indeed, it is described by Keiran Long as "like some kind of reverse waterfall, a white steel grid that swoops up from the ground and cascades over your head towards 16 perimeter columns in a flurry of 1,200 solid and 1,012 glass triangular panels."
The picture was taken using an iPhone 5, before being cropped and ran through a filt…

London to Brighton: Part Two - Wallington to Smallfield Road, nr. Gatwick

Marlpit Hill and a Lady Feeding Ducks

After exiting Wallington and needing to stretch my legs, I decided to head off a little into the distance, before a long decent down to Coulsdon Station. Page zipped along closely behind, with Jonesy beginning to recover from his initial dip in energy.
Just through the viaduct carrying the A23 and the old Southern Railway mainline to Brighton we faced our first major hurdle. It came in the form of Marlpit Hill, a category 5 climb up a silent suburban street. A major challenge that, once overcome, would mean we had finally escaped the clutches of London and would be out in open country. Feeling confident, I set off, once more slightly ahead of the other two. Page, complaining about his gear ratios – he rides a motorbike so knows a little about this technical stuff – decided to hang back a little as he didn’t think he’d be able to go as fast up the hill. Jonesy, still a little befuddled by the gears on a road bike when compared to an MTB held furthe…

London to Brighton: Part One - The Mall to Wallington

Best Laid Schemes...

I have been bitten by the road cycling bug. It is as simple as that. I bought a £600 Specialized Allez 2013 road bike shortly after the Olympics with four simple cycling goals: get fitter, get faster, go longer and stay alive.
The decision to ride my bike from London to Brighton on 19th January arose as a result of needing to lead by example. With my students struggling with inspiration and motivation to start their fundraising projects for this year’s trip to Uganda, I figured I would show them how it was done.
My idea was simple: set up a fundraising page on BT MyDonate supporting All Our Children (UK), say that I am going to ride from The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace, and ride, via the countryside, to Brighton on the south coast, with a fundraising target of £100 for the event.
Before I knew it, I had amassed £300 of sponsorship and had some riding support in the form of two old school mates from my time at Aylesford School, Warwick, namely Simon Page and Ch…