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Mad dog operas

On Tuesday night I went to Holland Park open air Opera to see Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Picture the scene. A balmy June evening, Champagne glasses chinking, summer frocks and picnic baskets ....and, of course, sublime opera as the sun sets and a stray moth flutters silently above the crowd.

What could be more quintessentially British? I'll tell you....

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10 Feb 2012

Mother language

It only seems like yesterday that I used a facsimile machine for the first time and the instant transmission had me giggling with incredulity. Yet, just a few short years later, the wonders of the internet are second nature to me. With the click of a mouse I can communicate in any language and interact with anyone just about any where on the world, in real time.

I use language tools a lot, particularly for French. I can speak it a bit, but with the technology available, I’ve become lazy. So, it is easier to communicate in print, rather than to speak on the phone. That is a shame because French is a beautiful language and the riches of colour and tone communicated by voice, are lost.

You only have to look at the beautiful hand crafted text in the Royal Manuscripts exhibition at the British Library, to see that every script is unique and encompasses something of the person who wrote it. There is something quintessentially human and individual in the irregularity, and imperfections that were lost when metal type and the printing press were introduced. Metal type text, still contained a little of the human element and irregularity that gave it an element of character, compared to the bland perfection of electronic text. If we don’t make an effort to hold on to individuality and diversity, I fear that the technological age will standardize everything and we will lose something very precious to our quality of life.

It’s the same with language. According to UNESCO, it is estimated that nearly half of the 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century.

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27 Dec 2011

Mon petit blog

 

I'm writing this blog whilst flyng back from a short, pre-Xmas break in Aix en Provence. Happily, the revenue from my patents enables us to spend time there very frequently. Isn't IP wonderful!

Aix is my favourite place on earth. Why? Well, how long have you got!

I love it for the pace of life, the romantic architecture, the colour of the light, the food (and the wine) the sophistication, the absence of chain stores, the two arts cinemas showing films in their original language with armchairs to get lost in, the bustling colourful markets and the French sense of style and colour. Most of all I love it because it makes me feel in love with life.

In the guide books, Aix is referred to as the City of Art and Fountains. Cezanne lived there and many of the Impressionists passed through at some point. It is easy to see why. At every time of day, at every time of year and whatever the weather the colour of the light is always remarkable. This December week, during the day everything was bathed in a soft dusty pink- like heather. Late in the afternoon, as dusk approached, it warmed to the colour of ripe apricots. Perhaps one day I'll whip out a box of paints but for the moment I prefer to just drink it in, together with a nice chilled glass of rose.

The markets are always teeming with just picked seasonal produce. I can't pass through without getting the urge to cook.  December is fungi time. In UK supermarkets we are offered 3 or 4 varieties of rather tired looking mushrooms but in Aix there are things I've never seen before. Cepes the size of dinner plates, things that look more like giant sponges, others that are beautiful colours - ochre yellow, delicate green tinged with orange.... and many more.   The smell as you wander past the stall is amazing - like a wet forest floor.

Then there are the spice stands.  Not in jars selling at silly prices. Here, spices are displayed in open pans and are purchased by the gramme. So you can smell before you buy.  Like everything you purchase in Aix, wrapping and presentation is an art form - and part of the service. Spices are dispensed in crisp cellophane envelopes with recycled paper labels.

We don't watch TV in Aix.  Instead we spend our evenings at a favourite restaurant, at the cinema, just mooching around the town (sometimes all the above!). This week we saw two really good films; Carnage, with Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, and The Guard, with Brendon Gleeson. Definitely worth seeing, regardless of the mediocre reviews (which we thought were unjustified).

CassisWhen you've had enough of the good life in Aix, there are plenty of ancient little hilltop towns to explore  in the Luberon.  Provence scenery is idyllic (mountains/ochre hills/cypress trees, turquoise skies) whether you take the car, cycle or just walk.

Cassis is a little secret that I'll share with you. It is a little fishing village surrounded by hills and vineyards. It has a micro climate so we were able to enjoy lunch in the sun. Forgot to pack the sunscreen. Who would have thought you could get sun burnt on December 23rd!

Now we are about to land at Gatwick, so I'll stop scribbling and get ready to don my hat, gloves and scarf for the journey home. Ah well - back to reality.

Wishing you all very happy holidays.

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20 Dec 2011

Inspired gifts

I was asked recently to name three dream gifts I would enjoy receiving this Christmas. 

These were my first thoughts (I’ll start with the easy one):

The Magus - the first novel written by British author John Fowles.

This is one of my favourite books and I could read it many times over.  It tells the story of a teacher on a Greek island who gets caught up in psychological illusions spun by a master trickster.  I love the way he uses the human mind as a guinea-pig! 

Note to shoppers:  This book is dark and serious.  An ideal gift for anyone who has a strong imaginative streak and isn’t a diehard pragmatist. 

Lots of reviews and good quality second-hand copies for under a fiver on Amazon.  Highly recommended.

A DVD box set of series 4 of MAD Men (or failing that) just a copy of the opening graphics sequence!

I could watch this over and over again, just for the opening graphics! I used to be a graphic designer (in a former life) and these really give me a buzz. I love the programme too - we've already watched series 1,2 and 3 several times. It is brilliant, stylish, intelligent - and been responsible for a revival of 50's fashion.

Note to viewers:  I don't know anyone who hasn't enjoyed this programme.

A dog with self cleaning paws ....who  doesn’t moult!

I love animals (particularly dogs) but they haven't yet  come up with a breed that over comes these two problems. There are breeds that don't moult and I met the inventor of Doggiemacs   (that effectively retain doggy damp and mud)just the other day. However a self cleaning, non-debris making breed would be the ideal. Perhaps pooch could do the vacuuming too!

Note to self:  Not a wild invention to think about in too much detail - you already have too many new projects on the go.

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Secrets of Cockfosters

Secrets of Cockfosters

I grew up in Cockfosters a suburb of North London.  Funny name isn’t it? I don’t where it originated from but one suggestion is that it was the residence of the cock forester (or chief forester).   Whether that is correct (or not) I don’t know.  But it is original.  Nowhere else in the world boasts the same name (according to Google maps anyway), so that must make it special. 

My parents moved there when they got married and have lived in the same house, ever since. They've seen a lot of changes. It was very rural when they arrived in 1947 but is now joined up to London's suburban sprawl and boasts an office block or two.

Cockfosters is here!Cockfosters joined the commuter belt in 1933 when the underground station was built. It is the last stop – right at the top right end – of the Piccadilly line.  I took the impressive architecture of the station for granted as I was growing up. In fact it is a Grade ll listed building, designed by Charles Holden in modern European style and quite beautiful!  It was recently featured on a TV programme about architecture - I felt rather proud.

Cockfosters doesn’t have many claims to fame but it is the home of Trent Park - one of Henry IV’s old hunting grounds. 

Trent Park is a sprawling 169 hectare country park . The grounds are lovely.  I kept a pony in the fields there for a few years and have happy memories of riding around the lake. I was a bit peeved when in 1973, it opened to the public.  Today  it is a popular public park and houses (among other things) a golf course, a cemetery Middlesex university campus.  

Trent Park has an interesting history of secrets.  During World War II it was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured German generals and officers.  They were treated hospitably with special rations of whisky and walks in the grounds.   Because many of the rooms inside the mansion had been equipped with hidden microphones and listening devices, the British military was able to gather important military secrets and an insiders’ view into the minds of the German military elite. 

The only other (semi-well known) people I’ve discovered who can boast an association with Cockfosters are the MP for Southgate David Burrowes (he was born there which isn’t a secret);  Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch-born Arsenal star and George Graham, the former Arsenal manager (they’ve both lived there). 

They share their patch (according to the census demographics), with a high number of resident Cypriot-born people who have made Cockfosters their home. 

And then there’s me, of course. I spent 21 years there so, I consider myself a cock forester too, and proud of it!

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