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Get a life

24 hours a day is not even NEAR enough to accomplish what I set out to do.

The problem is it’s not a very ambitious list, any ol’ superhero can see to it in seconds. Failing that, any robot is also overqualified for it.

But poor, lousy, lazy mortals like me are struggling.

And that explains the sorry state of this blog.

January – April are what I presume to be the busiest months of my life, ever, so I can’t vouch for regular updates here.

*disclaimer – it’s not really that bad as I make it sound. It just feels that way to me coz I’m just very bad at it.

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On a long, long night

Thunder rumbled. The familiar sound of rainwater hitting the clay roof tiles and the polycarbonate skylight soon started to reach my ears. It’s been a long time since I last heard that sound. I remember only one thunderstorm in Europe; that was last year, in Ghent, and the smell of the damp wood in Johannes’ ancient and creaking house where I lived in reminded me of my grandma’s old shophouse more than ever.

The days leading to my flight back home was long and tiring, and I was physically drained from all the heavy lifting, packing, moving, lack of sleep and unpacking. It was exacerbated by a slight asthma problem that appeared out of nowhere. I didn’t get much rest and was looking forward to being able to recuperating when I arrived.  On the day of the flight itself, and on the plane I hardly slept at all. Thus I was hoping that like two years ago, the effects of jet lag would be minimal.

It wasn’t.

I went to bed at 3am, but fell asleep around 4 and woke up at 4:30. The rain started at 6:30. In the two hours between me waking up and the rain starting I tried a variety of things; walking about my room, reading old comic books, playing games on my mobile, reading a book. In the end I picked up my Ipod and started listening to some Spitz. The last time I listened to the Japanese band was during my last days in the office, and hearing the familiar songs created a weird temporal link to dates, places, events and people halfway across the world. How strange.

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On an extremely hectic day in late July 2008, we rushed to Glasgow Central train station late at night and took the Caledonian Sleeper to London Euston. We arrived in the morning, dazed, tired, and with too many suitcases and bags. Fogged with sleep, we made our way to Nicholas’ place in Belsize Park where we crashed for a few days on his hospitality and figured out what to do next. A few days later we found a temporary flat in Camden Town, and we moved in immediately. Later, I found a placement in the nick of time and in November we moved to Hertfordshire, to a small town in Enid Blyton land.

In September 2008 I went to Heathrow airport with Flora (detouring first to have a good look at the then recently launched T5) to pick up my Manchester-bound sister and holidaying parents. The next day, we took a Virgin Pendolino up to Glasgow Central and spent nearly two weeks travelling about in Scotland. Later, me and my parents drove down to London in a rented MPV via Manchester, dropping my sister off at her uni on the way.

Two weeks ago I left work early on a balmy Thursday afternoon, took the FCC plying the Great Northern Route down to King’s Cross like we always do, walked to Euston and repeated my earlier journey up to Glasgow Central, this time alone. I met Charlie at the station just as the sun set, about 11pm, and spent the weekend finding a flat. I chose the best one available  (not many) and returned to London, feeling sick for most of the train ride.

And on Monday, I repeated the whole process again, this time with Flora, and again with a large number of suitcases and bags. We signed the lease for the new place, moved some of our stuff in, and returned all the way down south.

And next Monday late July 2009, it will be one last, conclusive journey (for the foreseeable future anyway), this time with a dude in a van, and with all our tons of stuff we have.

All told, it’s been exactly a year of travelling up, down, and up again, and what a year has it been!

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Leaving #3 Badminton

When I was in Belgium, I used to sample Ghent’s nightlife quite a fair bit, mainly due to the influence of my housemates and classmates. With the help of alcohol, meeting people was easy. Because of the massive language barrier, conversation in badly-broken English rarely went beyond who I was, where I was from, what I was doing in Ghent, and vice versa for the other party. I usually saw them only once. Even if I did see them again I could hardly ever recognise them. Meeting new friends was easy – so was leaving them.

It is/was different here. It was sad that I only got to know a few colleagues pretty well (a minuscule percentage) but I managed to make a few friends out of the local badminton club, a group made interesting by its disparity. With my relative ease with the English language (as compared to Dutch), I was able to have quite a few conversations in between games. It’s surprising how much information can go back and forth during those few minutes……

Anyway, with my total lack of social life here, I attended these badminton nights religiously, and I like it alot. Long story short, the whole point of this post is to say that I’m gonna miss it!

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Now that the academic year has ended, the capoeira classes of the University of Hertfordshire’s Hatfield campuses has closed for the summer. Some weeks ago I went for the more adultish class at St Albans, which is even further away.

St Albans is an old, old city, complete with Roman baths and stuff. It was once known as Verulamium – the third largest city in Roman Britain. In fact, it’s one of the first settlements in Britain with a name. That’s quite an old age for a normal, everyday big town in the UK.

History is evident in its streets, but as far as I can see, modern development has gone on relatively unconstricted by its historic past, especially if you compare it with say, Bath. It’s  interesting to see how an ancient city evolves to suit the times, taking on a weird character with old, new, and faux-old stuff plonked together side by side. It’s like the old blankets in my grandma’s home,  old blankets patched up repeatedly over the years with different types of fabrics and patterns.

Verulam, the name later chosen by Francis Bacon when he took over the barony, has been similarly adopted as names for local clubs,  societies, small businesses, etc. Is this motley pastiche a better fate compared to being museumified and fossilized, stuck  in an environment suffocated by tourist hordes and tough building regulations? I don’t know.

Disclaimer: My knowledge of St Albans is limited to about half an hour of walking around trying to find the correct bus stop, long waits for buses, 4 bus rides and Wikipedia. That’s a rather limited scope, to say the least.

Anyway, I was talking about capoeira. This group is filled with serious, tough girls and strong and buff guys, and I feel out of place.

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discussing-the-divine-comedy-with-dante-small

This is  “Discussing the Divine Comedy with Dante”, an 2006 oil painting by Dai Dudu, Li Tiezi, and Zhang An. The title is lifted from Dante’s opus magnum The Divine Comedy, or divina commedia in its original language.

If you have ever shown a passing interest in literature or the arts, it’s almost impossible not to come across references to Dante’s work. Written in the early 14th century, it has served as inspiration for all manners of artists and sculptors and playwrights and writers and what have you for the past 700 years, and from that above painting, is still doing so. Anyway, the painting features a great selection of historical figures and influential personalities ranging from Qin Shi Huang to Steven Spielberg.

The painting first surfaced as an anonymous viral internet hit earlier this year, and netizens had much fun guessing the identities of the people featured in the painting, as well as solving the mysteries behind it – who drew it, why etc.

These internet detectives built a comprehensive list of the personalities, and someone has cleverly linked each face to its own wikipedia entry, so if you have ever harboured dreams of becoming a brainy smartass, this is the place to start. That link also points to a larger image, because with the small one posted here you can’t even see Einstein’s hair.

Crazy, and appealing to a history geek like me. Here is a related article, as well as the full list of names.

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Last weekend me and Flora went to the London Design Museum by the Thames. It’s a small-ish private museum with “just” two exhibition spaces and no permanent galleries, as far as I could discern. However, it was enough to keep me occupied for almost two hours. Before I even entered the exhibitions me and Flora already spent an inordinate amount of time in the bookshop, which were stocked with all the latest design books covering most of the design disciplines, and a conspicuous lack of art books. Good design books are clearly my weakness. It is at the same time too expensive and irresistible.

Anyway the two current exhibitions are Super Contemporary and the Brit Insurance Designs of the year. When we entered Super Contemporary’s hall we were first met with a richly informative and well-presented story of London’s role in the centre of the world design community over the last 4 decades. The timeline covered current and important events and breakthroughs in all the design disciplines – architecture, fashion, industrial, graphic etc. I’m not sure of the impact on locals or even for Europeans, but for us faraway foreign students it was incredibly insightful to learn about the design processes and the inspirations behind iconic emblems of our experiences here.

Graphic design were featured heavily, perhaps the most heavily featured in the 70s and the 80s section – showcasing iconic images of our lives here – British Rail’s double arrow logo , Orange‘s erm, orangey logo, the road signs and traffic lights used on British roads etc.

britishrail460image from here.

orange

CD cover art and film posters form an important element of designers’ work in those days, and my favourite was Bill Gold’s film poster for Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian A Clockwork Orange. Fashion was also quite prominent, delving into stories behind and about Carnaby Street, Paul Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Hussein Chayalan etc.

One gets the feeling that architecture was perhaps less important in this exhibition, but stories were told about Modernism – the Alexander Fleming House, now Metro Central Heights, in Elephant & Castle, the Thamesmead South Housing Estate – the film backdrop for A Clockwork Orange mentioned above, the Robin Hood Gardens, the skyscraper Centre Point and continued on to more contemporary stuff such as the Swiss Re tower, the millenium architecture in London and Jubilee Line’s extension.

Industrial design was also featured, and the most iconic had to be Robin Day’s Polyprop chair.

daychair

It was presented in an extremely coherent fashion, and served as an excellent backdrop to the heart of the exhibition – 15 projects showing the latest from London’s design community. Featuring London’s most trendy designers of the moment, the projects included Zaha Hadid’s Vision for London and David Adjaye’s Bus Shelter, and  El Ultimo Grito and Urban Salon’s Horatio’s Garden: a huge canopy above Trafalgar Square (on the same level as Lord Nelson, so you can finally say hi to him). You can watch the video showing the making of the model here.

Paul Smith contributed a quirky design for the New London Rubbish Bin (now a bunny), and there are other things such as a London cab run on electricity.

The Brit Insurance Designs of the Year exhibition displayed the 91 shortlisted designs for the prestigious Brit Insurance Design of the year award. The products ranged across seven design disciplines – architecture, product, transport, fashion, graphic, interactive and furniture. You can see the full list here, and I am happy to say that my favourite among the architecture shortlist won for the architecture category – Snohetta’s new Oslo Opera House.

snohettaImage from Dezeen

Shepard Fairey‘s iconic poster for Barack Obama won the overall award.  (I used to wear lots of t-shirts by this dude when he designed (still designs?) tees for Obey Giant….)

obamaImage from Dezeen again

Super Contemporary is showing until 04 October, and Brit Insurance Designs of the Year is showing until 14 June, so if you’re in London and remotely interested in design….

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