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Archive for August 2007



Happy At Home

Posted on Saturday 1st September 2007 at 00:00
I'm sitting on my sofa with my notebook on my lap, a mug of hot chocolate and two chocolate digestives on a plate resting on the coffee table next to me. The radio is tuned to BBC Radio Bristol and Geoff Barker's Rock and Roll Party. I have just returned from Broadmead, and as I sit here my mind begins to reflect on my first visit to Starbucks since before I moved into The New Place.

Those of you who were paying attention back in July will remember that I was curious to learn why it was that the Starbucks lounge is far cosier than my own lounge at the time. With the move from my old house to this apartment firmly in mind, I wished to discover what I would need to do to my first ever home of my own to make it as comfortable and relaxing as the coffee shop I'm so fond of visiting.

I was going to have to furnish the place myself, so I would be starting from scratch and it seemed important, therefore, to get it right first time. Fast forward a month or so to today and I decide to return to Starbucks for a few hours, with my book, in order to compare the place with my own efforts and see where I can improve things.

Sitting back here now, I don't think I've done a bad job. My sofa & whilst new and therefore in need of a proper breaking in & is probably as comfortable as any of the ones I've tried there. The music is also a pretty close match, if you ignore the random talking between songs that you get on the radio.

I don't have carpet on the floor in here, but the room is warm, so I figure I probably don't need it. The other most striking difference, besides the lack of 20 odd people drinking coffee, is the walls. The walls of my local Starbucks are painted in strong colours: burgundy on one wall; British racing green on another. They are covered in framed pictures of different size, theme and colour, including my favourite: an aerial photo of the Clifton Suspension Bridge with Concorde clearly visible, flying in the background. How very Bristol!

My walls on the other hand are all magnolia, the colour of choice in all rented housing. It's a good backing colour because it's light enough to make the room look big and goes well with almost any other colour you put to it, and what's more: I rather like it's bright cheerfulness. Sadly, magnolia walls, light wood on the floor, light wooden furniture and a white sofa have all combined to give the room a slightly washed out look, and it's desperate need of more colour.

I have a picture hanging on my wall; a black and blue silhouette of a saxophone player in a matching blue frame that I bought from Ikea during my second year of university. It's a nice picture actually and works well where I have it, but I don't think it's enough. I'm planning on going back next time I have money to see what else I can find. All being well, the room will get the injection of colour it so badly needs.

An improvement in the lighting, courtesy of some well positioned lamps will add the finishing touches to a room that, in my view at least, is a rival for the Starbucks lounge any day. Now all I need is an endless supply of delicious caffe lattes to keep me fuelled and I'll never need to trek over to Starbucks again.

.....although I probably still will, because I do love it down there.

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Focusing

Posted on Tuesday 28th August 2007 at 00:00
A friend and I stroll along Bristol's historic Harbourside area. The sun is hot and shining at just the right angle to allow the light to reflect off the shimmering water and dazzle those who gaze upon it, no matter where on the quay they stand. We are taking advantage of the weather to practice our photography skills, by pretending to be tourists and snapping away at anything we consider scenic or artistic, whilst at the same time trying to find ever more fool proof ways of obtaining professional looking photos.

'I suppose the trick? I venture, whilst examining an image I've just captured using the preview screen on the rear of the camera, 'is to think about what you should cut out of the picture, as well as what you should leave in.?

This is certainly true in my experience anyway, as the best photos I take are not the wide views, positioned so as to incorporate as much of the scene as possible, but the zoomed in shots; the ones that include only the subject of the photo, and as little background as possible. Sometimes the pictures of which I am most proud don't even show the whole of the subject, but are merely spotlights on specific parts.

I've recently discovered that in this respect, photography is a lot like blogging. When you write a blog, you can either choose to talk about your life and absolutely everything in it or you can decide to focus each post on very small aspects of what you experience each day. Often the best blogs, to my mind at least, are not the ones that run through every event of the day in chronological order, as though they are little more than appointment diaries, written retrospectively. The best ones are those that will talk about something incredibly small and insignificant and nothing else for that post. Just one tiny snippet of the writer's universe, put down in an easily digestible bite size chunk for the reader to enjoy.

Perhaps, as with my photography, this is the sort of outcome I should aim for in my future creative output?

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More Problems With Bristol

Posted on Thursday 23rd August 2007 at 00:00
Back in October last year, I wrote a piece about how London is better than Bristol. Over the last few weeks, I seem to have found myself in London rather more frequently than is my custom, and on my most recent visit, this got me thinking. The day was Saturday last, and as is often the way at the weekend, the rail service had been upset by engineering works. I had been to see a show and dine with friends and when I returned to Paddington for the trip back to Bristol, I found that my train had been replaced by a bus to Reading instead.

This changing from my travelling norms was both irritating and interesting in equal measure, for it meant I got to be driven round central London , a rare thing since Mr Livingstone took over. Normally when I'm in London, I take the train in and then use the Tube to get around, so the amount of time I spend on the streets themselves is often fairly limited and restricted to certain areas.

So, there I was, looking out of the window as the coach wove its merry way across the capital towards the M4, and I began to think about how incredibly different the streets of London are from those of Bristol. For a number of reasons, mainly to do with its size and the number of people who have to get around, London is highly decentralised. The roads, whilst not quite complying to an American city grid layout, do tend to join together in a fairly neat pattern that is fairly square. None of the roads really lead anywhere, because there is no where specific that people travelling on them wish to go. There is no focal point.

Bristol on the other hand, like many cities that have expanded a great deal in recent years, is based entirely around the city centre. Although not exactly in the centre of the city, this central area is surrounded on all sides by housing and every main road leads inwards. In fact, when you get to the city centre, all the major roads from all the different areas of the city all terminate within a couple of hundred yards of each other. Even the motorway.

The only roads of any significance that don't go towards the centre are the various ring roads that collectively draw a circle around the whole place. The result looks a bit like a spider's web on a map. The problem with this inward focus, apart from the dreadful congestion it causes is that everything the city has to offer has also been focused on this point.

In London you will find more places of interest than probably anywhere else in the country. And yes, most of them are fairly close together, but they aren't centralised. There is no one point where you will find everything worth seeing in London. At the very least you will have to travel the length and breadth of Zone 1 and maybe even move out further just to get the basic tourist attractions. If you are looking for more down to earth stuff, such as shops, theatres and restaurants, you can literally get off the Tube anywhere you like and they will be right there in front of you. There is no one place to eat, no one place to buy clothes. Ok, so Oxford Street is a popular choice, but it is by no means the only option. You can go anywhere in London and your basic needs will be easily met.

The result of this is that the spread of people and traffic is evenly distributed across the capital. Obviously there are black spots, but on the whole Londoners are fairly spread out most of the time. For example, if you decide you want a coffee, look around and the chances are there is a Starbucks or Costa on the same road or the next one along. If you plan things right, you can pop in on the way to work, without even needing to take a detour. It is just there waiting for you.

Not so in Bristol. Here we operate on a centralised system. The tourist attractions are located in the centre. The theatres are located in the centre. The main shopping centre is located in the centre. Most of the restaurants in the city are located in the centre. And almost the only branches of Star Bucks and Costa Coffee are located in the centre. Ok, so there is an out of town shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway, but that isn't a whole lot better.

The only streets to have any shops on at all, outside of the centre and Cribbs, are the main roads running into town. Kingswood Highstreet is a particularly good example, as it has a reasonable range of high street names, although not all. It has some good places to eat, but not a very wide range. And that is my point: if you want more than the bare minimum, you still have to head for the centre.

I'm beginning to suspect that this is why we still have such awful congestion problems in the city. First off, the buses are very poor here and made worse by the traffic problems, and secondly, the layout of the city has been designed so that pretty much everyone is forced to go into the centre if they want to shop, eat or have a good time out. Combine those two issues and suddenly you have a city of half a million people all trying to drive and park in an area that's less than a square mile in size.

As I mentioned there is an out of town shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway, but it really is a long way out of town, and because of this it has been designed with cars in mind, not pedestrians. Even if you do live close by, and not many do, it simply isn't practical or safe to go there on foot. And when every major clothes store is at Cribbs and at the centre but nowhere else, is it really surprising that people end up there, rather than sticking to their local high streets?

If Bristol City Council had any sense at all, they'd take a leaf out of London's book and stop making the overcrowded and impractical centre the focus of everyone's attention, but start looking at how they can develop the rest of the city to the point that we are able to spread out more and start making use of the space we have.

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End Of A Working Week

Posted on Friday 17th August 2007 at 00:00
As so often happens, I seem to have been struck down with a nasty case of the old writer's block once again, and it is most frustrating.

Having apparently worked through each and every one of my stored up blog ideas that I still think worth writing about, I had expected to be happy and free to post about whatever came to mind today. However, by very great misfortune, I found myself at work all this week, a place where it is quite rare for me to find anything interesting to talk about at all. Not only that, but the time I've spent in work is time I could have been elsewhere, soaking up the inspiration like a sponge.

This is not to say of course that I've done nothing except work and sleep. Quite the opposite actually, having spent many an enjoyable evening this week in the company of friends, but whilst a good time was had by all, there was nothing worth writing a post about here.

So, where does that leave us? Well, right now it is 20 past 6 on a Friday afternoon and I am in my flat, sat in my big comfy chair typing this. It is getting increasingly dark in the room, although outside still seems fairly bright, and I shall probably resort to the sin that is electrical lighting soon. I've not had dinner yet, which means the kitchen is blessedly free of dirty pots, pans and trays for a change.

There is also no music playing, which seems odd as I feel in the mood for some easy listening jazz. Not sure if I own anything that fits the bill, but maybe I'll find something on the internet. I appear to still be in my work clothes, which is a mistake on a Friday evening, so I shall have to change shortly. Then I shall tidy all the paper work and general rubbish off my desk so that I can later gain happiness from its tidiness once more.

Perhaps a book is in order this evening? Or a film? Earlier I read a friend's blog which included a quotation from When Harry Met Sally, and now I want to watch the film. I guess we shall see what I'm in the mood for later.

I think whatever I do, it is becoming increasingly clear that writing this is not the best use of my time, no matter how little else I have to do. Hopefully I'll have come up with something more news worthy by tomorrow.

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Location, Location, Location

Posted on Tuesday 14th August 2007 at 00:00
One of the key factors that can affect a blog is where it is written. Or to put it another way, whether it is written 'somewhere? or 'nowhere?. Most bloggers fall into one of two camps: Those who state where they are blogging from and those who never mention anything about their location.

The former group of bloggers can usually be divided in two again: Those who mention their locations merely in passing, and those who make it a keen feature of their blogs. Petite Anglaise for example makes Paris an important aspect of her blog and will often talk specifically about the places in the city that she visits. Other blogs, such as this one, make no secret of where they are written from yet fail to take advantage of these locations as sources of information for readers.

I live in Bristol, the 8th largest city in the UK. It has approximately 80,000 visitors coming in every weekend, most (if not all) of whom do not read this blog. But, for the few who do, perhaps I am doing them a disservice by not talking more about the city I call my home. After all, I pass places of interest every day: bars worth checking out; interesting tourist attractions; good places to get a coffee when it's raining...

Blogs are supposed to be about a person's experiences, and I love the ones that go out of their way to talk about the world around them in an interesting and informative way. The same is true of course for books and films. The best - for me anyway - are the ones that use real settings and really try to give a feel for the places in which they are based.

I write about this now because I have moved to Kingswood, a charming little suburb of Bristol, and somewhere that I feel is well worth writing about in future. I've not yet explored much of the town, and my knowledge of local amenities is poor at best, but as this situation changes, I hope to be able to keep my readers abreast of my discoveries in the local area, as well as the city as a whole.

And who knows, perhaps one day someone will drop into the comments box and tell me how their visit to this wonderful city was enhanced by what I say on the subject. I certainly hope so anyway!

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A Saturday In Summer

Posted on Sunday 12th August 2007 at 00:00
I'm standing in a kitchen in Yateley chatting to a small group of friends. The clock on the wall tells me that it's almost midnight and the day's festivities are coming to an end. I look back over the previous 9 hours or so and decide that it's been a rather good day.

Some would suggest my Saturday epitomises everything that is good about summer in England: meeting for a BBQ with friends; sitting in a garden drinking Pimm's in the sun, whilst chatting merrily with people you've known, seemingly, forever; retreating inside when it gets too hot, to convene in the lounge and play on the host's Nintendo Wii; an impromptu murder mystery, with props for each character gathered from around the house; delicious BBQ food.

In the evening we find ourselves sat on blankets in the garden once more, surrounded by a ring of tea lights. We lie around chatting and joking, huddling for warmth under yet more blankets, whilst watching the sky for shooting stars.

Now though, we are back in the kitchen. Many of the guests have left already, and those of us who remain will be following shortly. Though I cannot be anything but cheerful after such a pleasant day, a small part of me is regretful that the fun has come to an end, and that such days, which a couple of years ago were the norm for my friends and I, are now a fleetingly rare occurrence, even during the endless university summer holidays.

I look forward to the stage in my life where these things become more frequent again, with new friends as well as old; perhaps neighbours and work colleagues. People who I am friendly enough with to enjoy their company no matter what, and who I don't have to drive nearly a hundred miles to see.

I push these thoughts to the back of my mind, thank my friendly host and join the queue of people in the hall to gather my possessions and depart.

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Photos of My New Flat

Posted on Friday 10th August 2007 at 00:00
Lounge

Living Room

Office Area

Kitchen

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Welcome To BT

Posted on Wednesday 8th August 2007 at 00:00
Well dear reader(s), I said I'd be back Wednesday and here I am, fresh faced and with a brand new internet connection from BT. Actually they somewhat excelled themselves in the end by providing my phone and internet connection a full 24 hours early. I could have posted yesterday therefore, full of happiness and praise for our national telecoms provider, but by the time I had finished setting everything up, it was just a little too late at night to begin writing anything.

Instead, the plan was to write this morning, right after I'd finished unpacking the very last box of rubbish to try and hide away somewhere in The New Place. However, all these plans went a little tits up when I received a knock on my door and found a courier standing there with my brand new and shiny BT Home Hub. As I took the package from him I thought to myself That's funny, they seem to be shipping the limited edition black home hubs in the same box as the bog standard white ones.

When I opened the box a few minutes later, the previous thought was followed by this one: That's funny, they've sent me a bog standard white hub when I should have had the sexy limited edition black one that comes automatically with my pricing plan. This one doesn't even have a phone with it.

Although I will probably phone BT and complain about this tomorrow, it has paled into insignificance after the long afternoon I've spent trying to establish any sort of wireless connection between my desktop computer and this new hub thing. I can get a wired connection ok, and I can get a wireless one to my laptop with no trouble at all, but for some reason I am totally unable to get the desktop online without stretching a 10 metre long cable across my living room floor, as I am doing now.

Needless to say, if I can't sort it out tonight, I may just have to mention this to BT as well when I phone them tomorrow.

And I've still not finished unpacking those damn boxes...

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Excuses For Not Posting

Posted on Monday 6th August 2007 at 00:00
So I'm taking advantage of my parent's internet access to do a quick bit of blogging for the first time in ages! No, I haven't deserted you; and I know it is the summer lull, but I still feel guilty for going so long without posting anything.

The reason for my silence has been a general lack of internet and lack of time for a little while now. To cut a long story short: last Tuesday I moved from the house in Fishponds that I have shared with J and H since last September to a new flat in Kingswood, which I occupy all by my happy self. Some people would suggest that there is nothing worse than living alone, but personally it suits me down to the ground.

The scheduled moving in day was on the same day as I had to move out of the Fishponds place. This meant that I had to pack everything in advance, ready to spend Tuesday frantically shuttling it all the 10 minutes drive between old and new accommodation.

Once I'd made the move I was forced to settle for a life free of internet for a time. Unfortunately for my poor blog, it wasn't until two days before the move that I finally received the confirmation that I'd been accepted as a tenant in The New Place. Because of this, I didn't want to phone up BT prematurely to arrange for the transfer of my phone and broadband account. Since BT is an archaic institution, with no grasp whatsoever of the concept that when someone says they want internet, they want it now, not in a year, I've sadly got to wait until next Wednesday for an engineer to be in my area to activate the line.

Given that (by my rough estimation) you can drive to Bristol from any part of Britain in no more than 6 hours, and given that BT stands for British Telecoms and so should therefore be based in Britain, I'm afraid I honestly can't see why the line couldn't have been active by the time I moved in. Even travelling on horse back, I doubt it would take a week and a half to reach me so I can only assume that the guy must be coming from China.

On foot.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've been without internet for a while now, and am more than a little grouchy about it. I had planned to write posts offline each day and then post them when I got a connection, but it's amazing what a full day of assembling Ikea furniture can do for taking away any interest in being alive, never mind awake and typing.

I shall, however, try and put some time aside to write up one or two of my long overdue posting ideas over the next few days, so that when I get my very own internet connection midweek, I will once again have something to tell you about.

Sorry for being shit.

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