Sunday 28 November 2010


This has been a difficult week as my beloved father passed away last Monday after a final brief illness. He'd beaten cancer several times before but this last time, just three weeks after his 70th birthday was one time too many.

My parents had been married for nearly 40 years and had the perfect marriage, my mother told me this week that she has no regrets of the time they had together. They very rarely had a cross word between them and often told each other that they loved each other.

It was my father who was largely responsible for me becoming a quantity surveyor (he himself was one); he would on occasion in school holidays have me hold the other end of a measuring tape or arithmetically check columns of figures.  It was my father's interest in photography that started my own interest, and it gave us both a lot of enjoyment.

When I was younger we were prone to arguments, we were very alike - both of us always wanting the last word in any dispute. Once I left home though he became more than a father but also a friend. We would talk several times a week on the phone and set the world to rights!
My father was a quiet man and a private man, but the letters of condolence that my mother has received reveal that he was universally like and respected. A gentle man and a gentleman.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Ezio is back!

Sometimes trilogies are good - increasingly often trilogies are bad. Once upon a time things in threes (books, movies, etc.) arrived this way because there was a story still to be told... and in books this is often still the case. It is a modern curse though that successful franchises, in order to keep on making money, have a second or even third where none is needed... or it is so weak that they might not have bothered (sorry Fable III I'm thinking of you).

Not so Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. First off, it isn't really a trilogy. Assassins Creed centred on the sullen Altair; Assassins Creed II had the much more likeable Ezio as the hero. In which case this is really on the second (maybe why it isn't Assassins Creed III) because we're back with Ezio only moments after we left him at the end of the last game. Reassuringly everything is as we left it (I'm looking at you again Fable III); the Villa Monteriggioni is just as I remembered it... all the menus and controls are where you expect to find them - and Ezio is still running up the sides of buildings and perching on the edge of precipitous drops. I've not had much time to play yet but so far I'm giving it five stars... not least because there is a bit of a challenge to be had (yes, Fable III I'm looking at you again!).

Royal engagement

Unless you've been living under a rock you can't have failed to notice the news this week of the engagement of second-in-line heir to the throne Prince William's engagement to long-time girlfriend Catherine.

Personally I wasn't very interested. Neither were most people I know... one of my colleagues did go as far as to wonder if we'd get an extra Bank Holiday when they get married, but that was the extent of the conversation in our office.

I'm not very interested in Royal goings on these days - but that wasn't always true. I was a huge fan of the Royal family as a child. When Prince Charles got married I had a cardboard Diana doll that you could dress in different outfits (that is what passed for interactive back in those days!). My brother and I were taken by my mother to see the flowers at St Paul's (and again to Westminster Abbey after Prince Andrew's wedding). I drew a few pictures (the one I parcticularly remember was off the Queen and Prince Philip dressed for an official occasion) I would post them off and get a nice letter of thanks from a lady-in-waiting. When Prince William was born I had a great big coffee table book called "Born to be King".

I'm not sure when I lost interest in it all... but I have to confess skipping the pages in the newspaper relating to the story and not bothering to get an Evening Standard that evening.

Good British weather

These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago at lunch time in Central London. The first was timed at 25 past one; the second at five to two. Funny old weather we've been having!

Kitten wrecking crew

It's true what they say... the devil makes work for idle paws. The kittens have been scaling the curtains (again).

Don't be fooled by the butter wouldn't melt pose... they are a two kitten hurricane of destruction when they put their minds to it!

Sunday 7 November 2010

Cable TV

The problem with being awake early on a Sunday morning is what to do. I decided to watch TV. There are over a hundred channels on our cable... and still nothing to watch. Mind you - some of them are HD versions, some of them are +1 versions... about a dozen are kids TV, over a dozen music channels and nearly a dozen shopping channels. Of what is left a lot of the rest seem to operate Sunday opening hours - they don't wake up until 9 or 10 o'clock... or even worse are showing infommercials. In my trawl from 101 to 999 the only thing I found to watch was the last ten minutes of High Society. Luckily the cats seem to have stopped their chaos so I might manage to fall back to sleep!

Feline alarms

Unfortunately as the saying goes - there is no snooze alarm on a cat that wants breakfast. Cass (unusually) led the charge this morning and Tink had to be woken up for his food.

Once the inner cats are full  they spend the next few hours playing getting everywhere they shouldn't be. They have a huge amount of toys and enjoy playing with things which aren't toys as well (curtains, house plants, dripping taps).

The desk chair in the living room is one of their favourite places to sit, and since Tink has learnt to climb the chair it is now another part of their playground.

Cass appears to have exhausted himself and wandered off to sleep somewhere (well he was up first). Tink is still getting into whatever he can manage to get into. Where possible this includes watching the goldfish.

Friday 5 November 2010

Gunpowder, treason and plot

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason that gunpowder and treason
Should ever be forgot.

It's that time of year again. It sounds as though heavy mortar fire is raining down on South East London. No - war hasn't broken out, it is just the most pointless 'celebration' in the English calendar.

I'm a bit of a grouch when it comes to fireworks night. I've never much liked fireworks, they cost a lot of money and go bang, and I have to deal year on year with frightened pets. It wouldn't be so bad if the fireworks were restricted to one night but they started round here at the beginning of the week and will probably carry on all weekend - Bonfire Night and Diwali fall at the same time.

The problem with bonfire night isn't so much the spectacle of it - it is the utter pointlessness of the 'celebration'. How many people queueing up to buy fireworks can actually tell you what is being commemorated. Gunpowder plot 101: Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators were a bunch of disenchanted Catholics fed up with the the Protestant King James and planned to assassinate him and replace him with a Catholic monarch. They rented a cellar underneath Parliament and filled it with gunpowder, the idea being to rid the country of the King and his government. The plot was discovered and Fawkes was tortured and executed.

The question is - what are we celebrating, here in the 21st century? Certainly no longer the deliverance of King James, maybe that the monarchy was saved? Certainly not that a bunch of terrorists tried to blow up Parliament, so maybe that the plot was foiled? Or maybe just because it is the only time, apart from New Year, that there is an excuse to set off fireworks.

They are pretty, it's true, if only they didn't have to go bang.

For those dealing with frightened pets the Dogs Trust have a leaflet - advice which can be adopted for all animals.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Skywatch Friday (34)

London Sunset

Fable III

A long time ago I saw an advert for a game - by your actions you decided whether your character was good or evil. That game was Fable and as it was only available on the Xbox I had to buy the console to play the game.

Fable was pretty much the first game I ever finished... and not withstanding the irritating guild master who would frequently interject with "Your health is low!" it was a fabulous game. Your hero could wander the world, completing quests, slaying monsters, and casting spells - all the usual fare you would expect from an RPG.

Fable II was set in Albion again, although time had passed and the places changed bits were still recognisable. Fable II introduce online/co-op game play, which as I only have a handful of Xbox friends, wasn't of much interest to me. The guild master was gone (and indeed mocked in one of the loading screens). Otherwise things were much the same, stealing and murder turned your character evil and good deeds were rewarded. There was also now a dog to help the hero find buried treasure and warn when enemies were nearby. I finished Fable II as well, the story at any rate.

I was pretty excited earlier this year to learn that Fable III was in the pipeline and even more excited to learn that it was coming out just at the start of my week off which would afford me unrivalled game playing time. I've read interviews with the people who made the game where they state that they fixed all the annoyances of previous games. I couldn't disagree more.

Fable III is back in Albion again. Time has passed (once more) and the hero this time is the child of the hero in Fable II. Somewhat confusingly the mediaeval world has in a short period of time turned into an industrialist society that seems far more advanced than is logical. The formerly silent hero now irritatingly joins conversations. There are no menus in game any more, having instead to return to the 'Sanctuary' which is a giant inventory/menu. The game is very slow as there are far too many guided scenes and cut scenes. The subtlety of choices for good or for evil has been replaced by requests to press buttons to make a choice.

You can (as with the other games) ignore the main story line and go off and carry out your own quests, and the graphics are still amazing. The voice cast is also pretty impressive - Zoe Wannamaker is back as Teresa, John Cleese voices Jasper the butler and Stephen Fry puts in an excellent performance as villain Reaver. There is still the humour of the other games in the dialogue too; but the good points aren't enough to make up for what is a poor latest instalment to the trilogy.

Monday 1 November 2010

49ers at Wembley

The famous arch at Wembley
Another grey and wet October Sunday, another game of NFL at Wembley. This year the home team were the San Francisco 49ers who were taking on the Denver Broncos. Hopes for the game were not high as both teams were coming to the game with a losing record (Broncos 2-5 and 49ers 1-6).

Tailgate Party
We'd left home at 2pm and had a completely event free journey which meant that we arrived at the Stadium well in advance of the game! Time to take a leisurely stroll from the tube station to the stadium and look down on the Tailgate Party with their impressive section of the Golden Gate Bridge and giant (slightly scary) linebacker.

Even superheroes like football
Strike a pose!
There were the usual assortment of fans in NFL shirts and some slightly more eccentric characters - walking to the stadium were Superman, Spiderman and Batman; and on the concourse this colourful group.

Despite the stadiums announcers pleas to fans to take their seats for the pre-game entertainment (My Chemical Romance - never heard them so no real desire to see them) we enjoyed a couple of beers on the concourse whilst playing 'team bingo'. The aim of the game is to spot a shirt of every NFL team... by the end of the day we were only missing Detroit, Arizona and Houston.

We went to take our seats and showed our tickets to the steward... who instead of directing us down towards the pitch showed us to the disabled seats. What a wonderfully kind man. It meant that every time my legs or feet started cramping I could stretch them out, and so by the end of the game I could actually walk back to the tube station without being in complete agony.

49ers take the field
Time for the teams to take the field... along side a massive display of pyrotechnics and through the 'honour guard' of the cheerleaders. Once again the seats in the stadium had flags left on them for the home team - so this was accompanied by much flag waving. The crowd do always get very much behind the team that is the 'home' team, in this case the 49ers.

The national anthems were the usual show of patriotism. The Star Spangled Banner went first - in previous years God Save the Queen has never come off so well - it just doesn't have the same 'oomph'. This year the problem was solved by getting guitarist Jeff Beck to play the anthem. Big improvement!
Nr 15 Tim Tebow
Time to get on with some football. It took a while to get going - by half time only three points had been scored by the 49ers with a field goal. Things got going a bit in the third quarter when Denver scored a touchdown. What we didn't realise at the time (the play we towards us so we couldn't see the players
shirt numbers) was that Tim Tebow (hero from his days at the Florida Gators, my college team) had come is as quarterback and got the touchdown!

All the scoring happened in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns for the 49ers and a field goal and a touchdown for Denver. The crowd went home happy as the overwhelming support was for the 49ers and they won convincingly. It was a good afternoon for my Fantasy Team as 49ers running back Frank Gore gave a good performance and got plenty of yards.

Many years ago Rich and I unusually ended up supporting the same team in the World Series - the Anaheim Angels (as they were then). One of their starting pitchers was in his first year in the MLB so whenever the commentators spoke of him he was "the Rookie Jon Lackey". We have continued to call him this - even many years later when he is definitely no longer a rookie and playing at Boston. Frank Gore will now forever be "Ball Carrier Frank Gore" due to the plethora of times that the stadium announcer referred to him thus during yesterday's game.

We were fortunate to get out of the stadium pretty promptly - we stopped briefly to thank to lovely steward who had been so kind in giving us the disable seats. We made it all the way to the penultimate horses barrier on the way to the tube before we were held as the congestion eased; and only had to wait a few minutes for a train where we happened to be almost by the doors so we even got a seat. All in all another great day out.

...and they played football


Drummers drumming

Cheerleaders, of course

The mexican wave