Monday, 30 April 2012

Pieces of Eight

I first stuck my head outside this morning at around 08:00, not quite believing the forecasters promise that, just for one day, we might be having a respite from the torrential downpours that have plagued us in the past week or so. I didn't have much confidence that I should leave the brolly at home and ventured out with some trepidation. Happily the London skies were clear and blue, the trees were verdant and springlike, there were some bluebells gently swaying in the London breeze, and an emerald green parrot screeched overhead.

Yes, a parrot. Mad, I know. I suppose I first started noticing them in London around seven or eight years ago. When I initially spotted one I recall feeling surprised at first, and then, assuming it was an escapee, I internally congratulated it on attaining its freedom. That was all; I then thought little more about it.

But in the years since that first sighting, I now realise that, across London, they are everywhere. I've seen them in one of my favourite of London's green spaces, the soon-to-be-damaged-by-the-Olympics Greenwich Park (note to my American friends who we look forward to welcoming to London in summer -- when asking for directions, say "Grinitch", not "Green Witch"). My children's school has a fine parakeet selection living in the trees surrounding their playground (my daughter is determined to get them to speak, and constantly shouts "hello, hello" at them). I have even seen one wrestling with the bird feeder in my garden.

Rose Ringed Parakeets, by J M Garg Some Rights Reserved

I'm never really sure what to think about this. In case you haven't gathered, parrots are about as native to London or the UK as penguins or polar bears would be. When I was a small child growing up in non-rural inner city London, I pretty much refused to believe that any birds other than sparrows or pigeons existed. These days, a sparrow sighting is tragically rare, although blackbirds, blue tits, great tits, magpies, long tailed tits, robins and a host of others now visit my garden on most days. As do what seem to be Alexandrine and Rose-Ringed Parakeets, both Asian species (I'm no expert; a friend of mine who knows his birds suggests to me that Amazonian breeds are out there, too). Where have these tropical birds all come from?

I've read speculation that Jimi Hendrix may have inadvertently introduced them to London, but given that there are several species, I don't really buy that (though, given Hendrix's short but productive existence, nothing could really be ruled out). More likely that they're the hardy feral descendants of a variety of escaped or released pets. It seems certain they're made of tough stuff, eeking out a living in a non native environment, reproducing vigorously, and decorating my car with fruity guano (another assumption; I haven't actually tasted it).

Whether or not these colourful aliens are competing with the native species for resources I have no idea. As non-native birds, they can be culled, apparently, and some parks and local authorities have ordered such an exercise. It seems sad but is perhaps necessary if the local ecosystem is being disrupted, and maybe native birds are threatened. That said, millions of migratory birds pass through Britain every year; are these native? It's a dilemma. Anyway, I kind of like them myself. It's possible they remind me of exotic travels from my past, I suppose; I was once lucky enough to have just alighted from a broken down bus in Guatemala, miles from anywhere and wondering what would happen next, when a vast flock of them flew over. Parakeets, that is. Not buses.

Enough of this reminiscing -- I have an excuse to share my parrot joke with you:

Q: What's orange and sounds like a parrot?
A: A carrot.

("No daddy," says my daughter (Kiddie Nam?), "parrots say 'Pieces of Eight, Pieces of Eight...'" Bless her.)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Rain Rain Go Away

It's official. London is having the wettest drought on record. Ok, it's not official -- I can't find any stats on the BBC's weather pages. I just feel like it should be official. It's no fun at all.

This morning, I went to the station to catch my usual train (which, as usual, was cancelled). By the time I'd reached the platform, I was absolutely drenched. I have to wear a tailored suit, but none of the creases remain. Instead, I cut a dashing figure of baggy knees and sogginess. Umbrellas and raincoat could not save me.

It got worse when I got to the office and realised that the weather had turned some important notes in a cardboard folder into a kind of green porridge. My laptop actually dripped when I removed it from my rucksack. And my socks never really dried out all day.

Of course, the water companies are rubbing their hands in glee. Those dry and dusty aquifers may just be rescued, the odd reservoir may have inched up a notch or two, but still we're in a drought. If this drought continues, I'll never get my trouser crease back again. No one cares that there is a hosepipe ban in place, because no one is using their hosepipe right now. The world's gone mad. It's official. Oh -- ok, that's apparently not official either. Sigh. Why doesn't anybody want to commit to anything these days?

Anyway, the one positive benefit of the rain is the return of London's favourite subject to the forefront of everyone's mind -- the weather. I only had to walk in the door dripping before someone said to me "Is it raining out?" (No, I thought I'd take a shower in my suit this morning you dipstick). In the lift: "Terrible this rain, isn't it?". "Forgot my umbrella this morning -- you'd think I'd learn..." And then there's my old favourite: "Good for the garden isn't it?" I personally can't see how being under four inches of water is helping my garden, unless I am trying to grow seaweed.

At least one gets to enjoy the attire Londoners adopt for the dampest conditions. My friend in the yellow sou'wester has made a happy return appearance on my evening train (though he never really went away -- I suspect he's always equipped with his whale-hunting gear, and just feels extra smug when the rest of us are soaked through). Everyone else is divided into two camps broadly, those who come equipped with umbrellas and sensible coats in a serious if futile effort to be as dry as possible, and those who have walked from their front doors determined to pretend that spring has sprung and ignore the rain altogether. Both categories of commuter prowl the city streets when they depart their station; after a brief period steaming up the windows of their tube or train then mooching across the grey pavements, they reach their office bedraggled and grumpy, all the while pretending to be neither.

I have seen London defeated by snow. I have been splashed by selfish van drivers. I have been hailed upon, and blown around. I have burned and sweated. But this rain, in the end, is a godsend. If the weather was just normal, what on earth would us Londoners have to moan or blog about? I'd have to talk about dull stuff like the Leveson inquiry, or the Mayoral Elections. No one wants to read about that, do they?

Of course, if my laptop hadn't needed to dry out, I could have posted this blog hours ago. Anyone got a cloth?

Monday, 16 April 2012

It is all about the box

Before you read this very funny and entertaining blog post (I'm my own harshest critic), I should warn you I'm asking for some help here. Will you assist? If you'd be decent enough to read on, I'll explain everything...

Leaving the office this evening, I encountered a substantial cardboard packet, empty except for a small piece of bubble wrap. It was large enough to accommodate a Pit Bull Terrier, a glass-fronted beer fridge designed for home consumer use, or a small child. I had no need to despatch any of these items to any particular destination, nor even did I have any of them with me, so I walked round the box and continued on my way. I kept thinking about it though. It had a Norbert Dentressangle shipping label on it, but otherwise no discernible branding. I wondered why such a box might randomly choose to obstruct my local pavement. I wondered what mysterious journey the box might have already undertaken, and I wondered how many different pronunciations of Norbert Dentressangle I might find amongst my British colleagues (I fear for the Dentressangles that their brand might be a tad inaccessible for many native English speakers).

You might think I'd have better things to do with my life than muse on the provenance of a cardboard box, and you'd be right. But those things can wait. Right now, I'm wondering at the profuse quantity of cardboard I find in and around London on a near daily basis.

Just this morning I had an Amazon carton to get rid of. (Books, bring me books. I'm like the literary equivalent of the Cookie Monster and Amazon and I are on first name terms. I'm not made of blue fuzzy fluff though.) I saw another box on a neighbour's step, presumably recently delivered and awaiting an excited exploration.

There was a large, suit sized cardboard carton outside a dry cleaner's on my route. And, even in my office, a bloke with a red T-shirt was wheeling a bunch of flattened cardboard boxes somewhere. They were being bundled off to the basement I fear, the place where old cardboard boxes go to die I suppose.

Boxes. Everywhere. We live in a world made from boxes. Gary Connery is soon going to be absolutely reliant on them, as he's going to drop out of a helicopter without a parachute in a special suit and (hope that) the boxes will break his fall. He's mad, of course, but obviously I wish him well. Meanwhile, a quick bit of cardboard box research (ie I Googled) reveals that most professionals in the industry do not refer to these types of containers as cardboard boxes because it does not denote a specific material. What? It's cardboard! What the hell else could it be? It's bits of unbleached wood and paper, these days usually made from recycled materials, and it's used for boxing stuff up. Simple.

OK -- perhaps I am non expert, but I reckon you and I and any of your friends or enemies could spot a cardboard box if they saw one. It's going to be a kind of brown colour, maybe with two or more paper-like layers surrounding a layer of corrugation. (Further Googling reveals this type of box material is known as "corrugated fiberboard", but since the site I read this information on was American, I'm going to call it "corrugated fibreboard", or, even better, "cardboard". What's more, the Wikipedia site I'm researching this from helpfully informs me that a shipping container made from corrugated fibreboard (or cardboard) is "sometimes called a 'cardboard box'..." Seriously, you can't make enlightening stuff like this up.)

I spotted a box once in London's West End after I'd been for a few drinks with some friends. It was about six feet tall, and was empty except for a wire coat hanger (wire coat hangers -- don't get me started). It seemed like it would be a good idea to be in this box, in the way that being full of wine, beer and After Shock can make things like that seem like a good idea. So my friend Charmaine (not her real name, it's Donald) and her boyfriend Donald (not his real name, it's Charmaine) decided to assist with inserting me into this exciting looking box.

Anyone who had not been After Shocked would probably have found it most sensible to turn the box upside down and put it over my head (or, arguably, not do this at all). However, in our cheery state we felt it more sensible to hoist me into the box as it stood upright, its open end facing skywards. After much lifting and grunting, I was finally sufficiently elevated to drop gracelessly into the box and enjoy the wonderful experience of packaged-ness.

Dear me, the happy memories. After having so much fun, a moment or two later I decided I didn't want to be giftwrapped in cardboard anymore, but could not now climb out. Stranded, and unaided by my two giggling companions, I was left with no choice. What may have been as long as several seconds elapsed before I threw my weight sideways and caused the box to tumble over. Oh, the unmitigated mirth of it all. As all the ad's now say, please drink sensibly -- the world's most fashionable oxymoron. Happily, being wrapped in the world's most fashionable packaging material, my fall was relatively painless and my shell of corrugated fibreboard prevented any lasting injury.

And so, I owe it all to the humble box. I was uninjured and could proceed on my very merry way. By way of a tribute, I thought it would be fun to collect pictures of them (cardboard boxes, that is). As many as possible. Please send me yours. I don't want any high art particularly. Smart Phone photos will be great. Don't edit them -- keep them raw and gritty please. Either link to them from here, or add them to Siddie Nam's Too Wordy For Twitter Facebook page. I've added one to start you off. Your help is appreciated. Please tell your friends -- their help is appreciated too. Let's have a card bombardment.

Otherwise please post them to Twitter if you prefer. You can find me for a DM as @SiddieNam, and you can use #TooWordyForTwitter (and, of course, #CardboardBox).

Once again, post here -- Siddie Nam's Too Wordy For Twitter on Facebook, or here at Twitter (@SiddieNam) and I'll love you forever (whether you want me to or not).

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Edinburgh Architecture

I recently had the good fortune to visit Scotland's grandiose and majestic capital city, Edinburgh. Being a Londoner, I'm a huge fan of cities, but Edinburgh is a different sort of place, with Reformation and 18th century architecture being the central styles in the Old and New Towns respectively. This is interspersed with a dash of medieval and, occasionally, a splash of the modern that makes any major cultural capital complete.

I wandered round, armed with camera (as well as my lovely wife and happy, noisy children), and it was sunny and springlike. We had a wonderful time. Too wordy I may usually be, but today I have chosen to let my photographs speak for themselves and show off this wonderful (and usually extremely friendly) town as best I can.

You can click on any of the images to see a slightly larger version, or you can see high quality versions of these images in the Edinburgh Architecture set on my Flickr site.

As I mentioned previously, you can find the full size versions of these images in my Edinburgh Architecture set on Flickr -- the set is here: .

Alternatively, you can click here for my Flickr site, or scan the 2D codes below from your SmartPhone.