Saturday, June 30, 2007

You have seen nothing like it before...

but after ... you see things like it everywhere.

The picture above is a graph of the page elements of this web-page, a unique fingerprint of the construction of it at a single point in time. You can watch it grow from here, or use your webpage of choice here. I've inverted the colours on the snapshot above so it looks beautiful on my black background.

The top quote is an excerpt from a letter of C.S.Lewis to Mervyn Peake after reading Peake's Gormenghast.

Earlier today I picked up a long-desired copy of Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art, a beautifully-presented volume that complements the growing collections of Peake biographies by presenting a range of his illustrations over a forty-year period.

(at right) Israel Hands falls from the mast, Treasure Island

Looking over some of the work from Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor and Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, I can see certain parallels with the later work of Slovak artist Peter Klucik which I'd discovered in Bratislava in April.

Friday, June 29, 2007

La bohème

I've just returned from an outdoor performance of Puccini's La bohème at Chiswick House. Staged by Garden Opera, it featured my friend Adrian Powter in the role of the painter Marcello. The cast shone vocally despite the threatening weather, but we avoided a downpour with about two drops of rain descending as Mimi faded in the closing moments. I could hear Charles and Camilla in the row behind (well, it sounded like them) commenting on their fine acting skills - no argument there: I loved the way they played up the comedy of Act I. The "orchestra" of six at stage left skilfully suggested a larger ensemble. The only other production I've seen was Baz Luhrman's at the Sydney Opera House, but this one walked all over it in delivery and credibility. The dropping outdoor temperatures in the Chiswich House gardens made us especially sympathetic to the bohemians in wintry Paris with their tiny frozen hands.


It really is a green room

There was a 40 minute intermission to allow picnickers to graze more noisily, and I wandered back stage to have a cuppa with some of the cast, and fellow Aussie, violinist Madeleine Easton.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Capital Ring: Wimbledon Park to Richmond

It's 5 months since Bondi and I last walked a segment of London's Capital Ring path. I had wanted to complete the circuit in strict clockwise fashion, but today it was more convenient to do the "final" section, between Wimbledon Park and Richmond.

I drove down to Twickenham early this morning to drop off the car with a private mechanic for servicing. With at least 7 hours to wait until completion I decided to have breakfast just across the Thames in Richmond, catch the train to Wimbledon Park, and then walk back.

While the two ends of the walk are only 8 miles apart, we had a long tube journey since they're on different branches of the District line, intersecting at Earl's Court. As we neared Wimbledon Park, many people were getting off at Southfields station , which is the closest to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club where the Wimbledon tennis tournament is being staged. We've noticed that many event organisers across Europe have been canny enough to capitalise on Bondi's travels, and schedule to take advantage of the crowds coming to see him e.g. G8 conferences, Eurovision, Prince William's graduation, Bachfest ... and today, Wimbledon. As the train had to stop at that station for a long time while the platform cleared, the crowds precessing past our carriage door began waving at Bondi perched inside.

At Wimbledon Park, Bondi headed for the florist at the station entrance, draining most of a bucket of water missing a bouquet. Thus, at 11.30am we began the walk proper.

After rounding some local parks and tennis courts, and an artificial lake created by Capability Brown, we hit the melee surrounding the actual Wimbledon tournament. Various diversions and signage obscured the desired path, so we got swept up in the foot traffic to the AELT&CC gates before realising that we'd gone down the wrong road and had to circle back to the correct road.

As we crossed into the borough of Wandsworth we passed Queensmere House, which was used as a POW camp for officers during WWII. Obviously someone in the War Office figured that these chaps who were doing things that just weren't cricket were best housed at the back of the tennis courts.

From here, crossing towards Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common, we started one of the longest stretches of green space on the entire Capital Ring. We stopped for refreshments near Britain's last remaining hollow post windmill - all of the machinery turning on a single post threaded with a drive shaft. There were lots of other dog owners taking a break there, but after a pleasant intermission, decided to press on in the face of approaching rain-clouds, undoubtedly drawn towards centre court at Wimbledon.

We veered past the Queen's Mere, a favourite spot for Wimbledon Common's most famous literary (and televisual) residents, The Wombles. They and their habitat are parodied by Michael de Larrabeiti's far darker children's series about The Borribles, with its "Rumbles of Rumbledom".

Bondi has an orinoco flow; Great Uncle Bulgaria spotted in the bushes at Queen's Mere

Putney Heath; clouds gathering over the Common

Continuing west we reached Richmond Park, which we had last visited 18 months ago, brought here by Chris on a very wintry day. Enclosed in 1637 by Charles I so that the royals could go deer-hunting, it is the largest urban park in all of Europe. There are still hundreds of deer roaming in herds, but we kept them at a distance since they are very protective of their newly born at this time of year.

Petersham Meadows

Several miles later, we popped out near Pembroke Lodge, childhood home of Bertrand Russell, and descended through Petersham Park to the meadows by the river Thames. Famously painted by Turner, and photographed by Williams, the Petersham Meadows linked us with the Thames Path we had walked from Teddington Lock early last year.

From there it was a short stroll back into Richmond, and a late lunch while waiting for news of the car's readiness. While we were lucky enough to miss the rain, the car will need more work, particularly to replace the motor for an electric door window.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Just for the hell of it, some photos from Seattle, this time in 2001, when Bondi's brother Dougal arrived. It's 3 years since I've seen the little tyke, I hope he's doing well.

Nothing much to report so far this week: London has settled into unsettled bit-o'-this, bit-o'-that weather. I've been messing around with my old computer, and pushing blank DVDs through it in an effort to provide a good backup of this year's photographs.

I do want to get out of London again for more than a day-trip, and have started sketching out plans for trips hither and thither. The first stake in the ground is a booking of a half-week on the island of Arran in Scotland at the beginning of August, where I'll be catching up with my friend Michele and her family for the first time in 3 years. NB this island should not be confused with the Aran Isles off the west coast of Ireland at Galway.

I'd like to see more the west coast of Scotland, and am looking to push northwards from there to the Hebrides for some sea kayaking and maybe even on to the Orkneys or Shetland Is. I'll have to check these carefully, my experience in recent years is that island folk are not terribly dog friendly wherever that island may be.

Naturally I must find a way to integrate visits to everyone I know in Wales and the north of England on my journey. I ams till desperate to find a way to stay in Edinburgh for a while during the festival in August.

Adrian sent me a Flickr link to some of last week's photos from Brighton. One of the comments amused me:
Oh my God! I've met Bondi! He occasionally visits a coffee shop owned by a friend of mine in Ealing. Everyone knows him!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Language rant

One of the professional side benefits of visiting so many countries in the last 2 years has been seeing language and software at work in "real world" conditions. The sort of insights garnered in such travel are very slow to penetrate the consciousness of major software vendors.

Above is an example that would be trivial to fix, but has not been attended to by Microsoft since I reported it maybe as long ago as mid-2006, when Windows Vista and Internet Explorer v7 were in beta. When you first run IE7, this "Run Once" page is the first page you see, which enables you to turn on a few security settings. The bad thing is that while it recognises one's default language (in this case English(United Kingdom)) it still defaults to selecting English(United States) - and so everyone but the eagle-eyed will click OK, switching their browser language to the US dialect in the process.

This switch materialises in the options setting shown in the advanced-level options dialog shown above. This issue is known to many in the English-speaking world outside the United States, as evidenced by the discussion in this language blog - and yes, I am the Mike referenced.

Is this language-blindness just a Microsoft problem? No.
  • When you install the British English version of Mozilla Firefox browser, it helpfully asks if you want to install the British English spell-checker. Unhelpfully, the link it provides is to the US English spellchecker.
  • Google switches the user-interface of its search and blogging pages based on the IP address range of the country you happen to be in when browsing. So if you're in another country and using your laptop, then you will get all the Google pages in another language. While it is possible to switch back to your native language, this means you have to negotiate an options page (once you work out what "Options" might be in the other language) and change the language in two places. Your language name is also written the way that the other language describes it: English might be Anglais, or Ingelski, or something less intuitive. There were a few times where I accidentally chose the Elmer Fudd option, because it looked more like "English" than the real option. Could Google be language-sensitive more usefully? Yes: (1) Base the language on that of the browser interface (ie that used in the menus, dialogs and help topics), or of the preferred language shown in the dialog box above. (2) List the languages in their native form: Deutsche, English, Espagnol, Francais, Italiano etc. Readers of additional languages typically know the native name of that language.

I've watched people wrestle with these sorts of problems in many countries now: both in their homes, and in internet cafes. In another spin on the Google issue above, I was searching in the Microsoft Knowledgebase for information that would help a friend in Norway. Unfortunately, Microsoft's web server thought it knew better, and would only show me articles written in Norwegian, even though i was using my totally English-language laptop. There are cases where Microsoft's web server will discriminate between US English and [Other] English, serving up different pages for what is ostensibly the same URL.

These are all issues that would show up as high priority fixes if any of the relevant software designers, coders and testers did any travel outside their US English coccoon.

Yesterday, someone asked if Bondi was an Alaskan Molecule.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Done, done, done

I've finally posted pictures and skeletal text for my final three days in Germany. I've just been looking b ack at what we were doing over the last two summer solstices. In 2005, towards the end of our first month in the UK, we'd just finished the Great Glen Way walk. A year later, we'd reached Donegal on our circuit of the Irish coast.

I've been listening again to the debut album Jetlag by Goran Gora, which I bought in Riga, Latvia on my journey. I think it's my favourite of all the CDs I picked up along the way. The recording above is from the Brixton Telegraph in 2006.

Finished reading Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror.

Late night fireworks over Kew Gardens

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Malamute Pattern Baldness

While I sleep and reorganise my life, things have been generally less than blogworthy, so here's a cheery little number from the manically inspirational William Zauscher.

Bondi's lab results came back, and they were negative - so he's not a lab! Seriously though, while his thyroid activity was a bit down, there were none of the complementary factors to indicate hypothyroidism. This would indicate that Bondi's hair-loss is, most likely, Alopecia X, also known as coat funk (in malamutes and other nordic breeds).

This evening I met my distant cousin Katie, daughter of Alison and James in Pembroke. She got to meet Bondi over dinner in Chiswick, while a parade of fans, sober and not, came to pay their respects to him. I'm also amazed how many folks notice Bondi in the back of the car, with the tinted windows closed.

Brighton Beach memoir

My hayfever was getting quite out of control, so I took the opportunity to revisit Brighton and get some sea air, dropping in to see Adrian and Stefan on a day off.

Adrian took me past Choccywoccydoodah, to see the elaborately conceived cakes on display. I thought that the one (above left) with two costumed dancers from a masque ball seemed to be two layers of decadence.

Adrian in turn, got the "welcome to the world of walking in public with Bondi" tour. He's doing a photo-per-day project, and today's was with Bondi.

Bond+eye Street

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Back in the swim

Chris and I took Bondi for a loop around Barnes today, with the final leg being between Hammersmith bridge and Barnes rail bridge. Seeing a couple of doggies splashing around on the water's edge, Bondi would not be deterred from joining them, and plunged right in, wading/swimming nearly out to the middle of the Thames.

That has been my major outing since getting back to the UK. Right now I'm concentrating on getting Bondi's veterinary needs seen to, my computer fixed and the car serviced. Almost everything seems to require dealing with some godawful call centre. The worst example came when I called my local Renault dealer to get information about some parts and repairs. I probably should have tried another dealer, but better the totally incompetent devil you know ...

By the way, don't ever bother submitting a service request through Renault UK's website: I'm just collecting automated email responses along the lines of "This is enquiry number #####. We'll be back to you within 24 hours." I have unanswered requests going back to August 2006. The enquiry simply puts you on Renault's spamlist.

So I called the dealer direct, punched #2 for Parts, and got redirected back to main menu. I asked for Reception and asked for Parts and was put through to someone who sounded like they were dislodging something very substantial from their lungs and then they hung up. I called Reception again and asked them to put me through to someone well enough to talk - this time I got a woman whimpering semi-audible gibberish on the end. I asked Reception again for someone capable of speech (she started laughing at my descriptions), and so she put me through to the Parts Manager, who explained that by default I am being switched through to a call centre in Kenya (aha it's Foreign Parts!), which is probably where all the website emails go as well. A rather awful scenario flashed through my mind of what had happened when I called minutes before: call centre person #1 has the Ebola plague and has just hoiked up some bloody matter onto call centre person #2, who is whimpering in response to their anticipated fate.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

20,000 leagues [and then] under the sea

Well we've done it: 20 countries, 4997 photos and 20,000 kilometres in exactly 15 weeks.

I had no sleep last night, worrying about the inevitable border interrogation going into the UK, even though I have oodles of documentary proof of my self-sufficiency and intents here (650 blog posts anyone?). I got to Calais 3 hours ahead of my Channel Tunnel departure slot, and was offered a free advance to an earlier slot. At the last hurdle I was pulled out for a special questioning, but I showed them the papers for my job offer in Australia and for Bondi's export. I was then allowed through (although no stamp in passport...).

We arrived in Ealing around 1.30pm, and after coffee at Munson's, took Bondi to the vet to draw a blood sample for confirming rabies antibodies. I'd spoken to the local contact for PetAir about this and it's possible we can shave a month from Bondi's stay in UK if everything's handled correctly. It won't change his 30 day quarantine in Australia, but it could mean that he's out before Xmas rather than mid January. I also got the vet to order an endocrine analysis so we can see if Bondi's hairloss is due to hypothyroidism and thus treatable.

I'll get to posting my final photos, and the Belgian and German entries I haven't had time for to date. My laptop has to go in for service so I'll have to work around that for a little while.

Thanks to everyone who stuck with us during the journey, and offered us accommodation, tips and friendship. We still have 6 months of time in the UK to report on, so let us have a wee rest, and transmission will resume promptly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One Night in Belgium and the world's your oyster

Today's only goal was to get Bondi's pre-UK shots done before lunchtime. Even though tick & worm treatment is valid for months, the UK requires that you have these done between 24 and 48 hours prior to crossing the Channel - miss out by 30 minutes and you cannot travel.

The first vet I tried to visit had shut up shop and moved, and the second was out of town. I asked the hotel to help me by giving me a number to call - they said they'd book one for me (I later got charged €3 for that local call) and gave me the time and address.

I turned up at the address, knocked on the door, Bondi beside me. A lady answered the door, looked surprised at Bondi (OK so what). I said we had an appointment with the vet. But I'm not a vet, although I do have 11 cats.

Fortunately her English was excellent, and she helped me find the correct address (about a mile away) without charging me for the service. The vet we did find was very helpful and got Bondi's shots done quickly, and his Pet Passport record updated. The only side effect came about 6 hours later, when Bondi vomited up a day's worth of biscuits onto the doorstep of a chocolatier whose windows I was inspecting. Mortified, I asked for a bucket of water to clean it all up, and bought up big inside.

Mission accomplished, I just went to do some more window-shopping. While Bruges may be the birthplace of Doctor Evil,
My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low-grade narcolepsy...
and the site of William Caxton's first printing press, neither of these are truly celebrated in the local community.

The world's most famous Belgian is marked out at the local Tintin shop*, despite his Flemish name being Kuifje. 2007 is the centenary of the birth of writer Herge. I have yet to do a calculation as to whether or not Bondi and I have been to more countries together than Tintin and Snowy/Milou - although that pair did go to the moon, get abducted by aliens and travel in a submarine. (*The adult clothing there seemed to be only available in Castafiore sizes.)

Two faces of clockwork in Brugge.

We passed a gallery displaying some of the remarkable works of Kezanti, fusing machine with man or beast.

Blocking the hotel room door, as usual.