Monday, 1 October 2012

An easy way to upgrade your iPhone and keep Google maps

Londoners - particularly those of you with iPhones and who've already downloaded 24hourlondon - I feel your pain. It is also my pain.

Not because the app was affected, it wasn't, but because of the kerfuffle with Google maps.

Londoners need Google maps more than nearly anyone else. It's like a space age version of the A to Z and London is a big, complicated place that's hard to get around quickly.

It has a lot of public transport options, including many you wouldn't necessarily think of because they're new or you're in an unfamiliar part of town. For getting from A to B Google maps gives you the quickest routes on public transport, including buses and overground railways.

So Google maps is a perfect example of something I didn't know I needed until I had a smartphone but which has enhanced the quality of my life immeasurably, saving oodles of time.

So living without Google maps in London was not something I was looking forward to.

None of the other options looked very enticing. There's a link on that page to an article telling you how to get Google maps back again and all of the options involve downgrading to the previous operating system.

However, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to (hat tip to my good friend Alix Walker, font of practical advice and a fantastic cook to boot).

After you've upgraded to the new operating system, go to Google maps - which will have vanished as an app from your screen - in Safari. Once you start using it you will be offered the opportunity to download Google maps as an app.

Click yes and it will reappear on your screen as an app as if it had never been away.

Ta da!

Don't say I never give you anything.

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Monday, 2 April 2012

The London Foodie's Japanese Supper Club and The Art of Dining

I've had two extraordinary foody experiences over the last couple of weeks, both of which I'd recommend. I'd do this on the grounds that every once in a while you need Shakabuku, or a swift spiritual kick in the head. I know this because I've watched Grosse Point Blank.

First up was the London Foodie's Japanese supper club. Held in Islington in one of those enormous homes with the basement kitchen visible from the street, the London Foodie - aka Luiz Hara - used to be an investment banker but is now using the money he earnt to devote himself to something that he loves. This is the best reason I can think of for having been an investment banker and he's a charming host with it. Plus he's renovated his basement with the supper club in mind, which demonstrates unusual commitment and should give you some idea of the seriousness he brings to his project. He'll probably end up on the telly.

Other people have written about this supper club very well and done the food side of it more justice than I could. For the food is just fabulous. My favourite parts were the dim-summy street snack mouthfuls that were offered with a glass of fizz on the way in - probably because I had done as I was advised and arrived hungry and I really love dim sum - and the tofu and "old eggs" for the novelty of the dish. Someone was saying as I was eating it, that in Japan these eggs are sometimes produced by marinading them in urine. I'm not sure I believed that but they were so delicious that, truth be told, nothing could possibly have put me off. 

I was sitting near two PRs who'd provided some wine for the evening, and although I remember thinking that this was quite canny marketing I can't remember now what kind of wine it was - French? - so I guess this tells you two things. Firstly, that supper clubs in London are achieving a kind of critical mass. And secondly, that marketing things to people who've had a few glasses of wine is pretty pointless unless the product is memorable enough to make you want to write down its name.


But it was exciting. Going into a stranger's home, being treated to an exceptional eight-course meal at a very reasonable price - you pay roughly half the recommended amount (£35) in advance to reserve your seat and may subsequently pay as you feel moved to - and meeting a terrific range of people, who were brought together by the love of food and being more than averagely adventurous. I met a couple who were about my parents' age - a New Yorker who'd met her German partner through teaching him English in London - as well as a shy derivatives trader and two delightful women, one of whom had recently baked an entire tray of cakes that she iced to look like boobs. I can't remember why exactly, but she had pics on her phone. 

The evening was summed up early on by the shy derivatives trader (shy being a relative concept at this gathering) when one of the PRs told him that Luiz's was the best supper club in London. "I'd been hoping to explore a whole world of supper clubs," he said. "So that's like being told that you've peaked too soon."

But it moved me - ever the optimist - to try something similar the next week. 

So I went to an evening called Vanitas, by an outfit calling themselves The Art of Dining. This was not, in fact, a supper club but a pop-up restaurant in the slightly amazing surroundings of Sutton House, a brick Tudor home that sits incongruously at a turn on Homerton High Street, having survived the Second World War apparently in tact. No mean feat in the East End.

The Art of Dining had several other projects under their belts already, including one based on rationing, which I'm sorry I missed.

Sutton House is beautiful and made me think of the Peter Ackroyd book Hawksmoor, which has as one of its themes the ways in which things are invisible to Londoners. I'd walked past the house many times and barely noticed that there was a National Trust property there in all its pomp. This certainly fixed it in my mind. 

Part of this event, billed as a Tudor feast, was an art exhibition. And this was where, much as I hate to say it, it kind of let itself down: for half of the four pieces were remarkably amateurish. There was some sumptuous photography (including the piece on the poster above) and a human torso fashioned from glass and light in a chapel that made you want to walk around it for a better look. But the remainder was a bit childish - probably an afterthought - and left one with the feeling that not all the details of this event had been fully thought through.

Vanitas was a form of art exploring the transience of life, the futility of pleasure and the certainty of death. So far so Peter Greenaway. Accordingly there was a display of skulls, fruit and flowers arranged to look as if they were there to be painted and the tables were scattered with fruit, fruit peel, nuts and petals which looked good and felt decadent.

And Ellen Parr's food was genuinely tasty and well-suited to the occasion - I particularly liked the quail with dry seasoning dip to be eaten without cutlery, which with the simple addition of a finger bowl has got to be the easiest way to do that - fiddly little birds. It also put guests in touch with their inner Henry VIII. And the white garlic soup was delicious. But the portions were tiny - which was especially salient because by the time we sat down we were so hungry that all of the nuts decorating the table got eaten immediately. It reminded me that they'd previously done an event themed on rationing.

Having invited people to arrive for a dining experience an hour before dinner was served it would have been good to have offered some canapes or perhaps more of the delicious freshly-baked bread with dinner. At £45 and bring-your-own wine for around 25 people this gave the appearance that it was rather more about making money for the organisers than for the guests. Also if I'd been less hungry I might have felt less judgemental.

However, the surroundings were fabulous, the other diners - once again - were a fascinating bunch  and I'll never forget the horrific story told by our neighbour Jonathan about meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. Nicky's from Nigeria originally (both of the pictures in this blog that were taken inside the house are by her) and the tale involved a feast with a gently laxative starter that was also a local speciality, Jonathan's over-eagerness to please his potential in-laws and a trip home in family convoy across a plain with no bushes. Nuff said.

Fortunately on the occasion of our dinner together there was a helpful lady pointing the way to the bathroom.

Both of the fabulous London meals were good in their own ways: I'd just say that The Art of Dining was clearly conceived as being as much about art as it was about dining. Over-archingly they were enjoyable because they're the antidote to travelling on the Tube - the most widely understood experience of London. They're an opportunity to meet people who wanted to be met in a beautiful environment where you can hear each other speak. An opportunity to be human.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Mile End Genesis is putting on its top hat

I'll admit it. I could have been feeling more relaxed.

The journey back from work had taken longer than anticipated and I'd already missed one showing of The Artist at the Genesis in Mile End last week for similar reasons. So when I flew into the cinema foyer five minutes after the programme was supposed to have started, shoes pinching slightly from an extremely fast walk, there wasn't really time to digest the reasons why my ticket seemed over-the-odds expensive: just enough time to register that it was and feel vaguely annoyed that they'd put the prices up again.

There always seemed to be something at that place, my stressy, rush-hour Tube head was telling me. I mean, if I'd wanted to pay £10 to see a film I could have got off the Underground in the middle of town couldn't I, instead of whistling straight through to Mile End? And - I thought as I belted down the labyrinth of corridors to my screen - I was lucky that they hadn't tried to wrestle my bag off me on the way in this time, on the off-chance there was some food in it. They often appear to think at the Genesis that they have a right to prevent you taking your own food and drink in to the cinema, including bottles of water, and that it's worth antagonising the customers about.

And breathe.

After all, I'd made it in time for the start of the film - thank god - and really that was the important thing.

But when I went into cinema 5 - which has been renamed Studio Five - there was more.

They'd ripped out the seats and replaced them with sofas - which I had to admit looked quite inviting - and, much to my confusion, there was someone at the door trying to talk to me about something, when all I'd anticipated was slipping into a seat in the dark and watching a movie. Plus - ooh! - there was trendy wallpaper and what looked like a bar inside the cinema.

I might not have been the ideal customer at this point and definitely said something about the price of the ticket, which provoked a lengthy and slightly exasperated explanation from the young man when all I was trying to do was work out if I'd missed the start of the film. But after a minute or so of talking, he said the magic words "complementary glass of wine"... at which point the cloud lifted. Simple things :-) By which I mean me, obviously.

For the Mile End Genesis is trying something new and brave along the lines of the thing I was waxing lyrical about in this blog.

After I'd settled into my extremely comfy sofa, had a sip of wine and a chance to realise that I hadn't missed the start of the film after all, I also realised that there was a menu on the low-slung table in front of me that included felafel and that actually an extra fiver was a small price to pay for a completely different order of experience. I mean, how lovely. Gradually it became apparent that I was really enjoying myself.

And what a movie.

The Artist had been beckoning ever since Jean DuJardin, its male lead, and Michel Hazanavicius, the director, laid on the Gallic charm at the Baftas by telling the British judges how clever they were to give an award for sound to what is, basically, a silent movie.

And oh... it's great. It made me want to see it again, under similar circumstances very soon.

Jean DuJardin is facially a bit like both Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly. And the wonderful dance routine at the end made me think of Fred and Ginger in Top Hat. Whisper it, but I think Berenice Bejo might be a slightly better dancer than the lugubrious Monsieur DuJardin. But I'd certainly watch the whole film again just to make sure.

And I'd also like to say that I've always liked Jack Russells, which have often struck me as intelligent, useful little things. And that I was prompted to make this evening's trip to the pictures partly because I was impressed that someone I work with had recently met Uggie.

Walking away afterwards I felt wonderfully entertained not only by the movie but by the cinema's new thing. For the slightly down at heel, gas-central-heating-smelling Genesis seems to be upping its game and aiming much higher than it has before. Putting on its top hat, if you will. And I wish it the very best of luck.

So in the manner of a tribute, I give you the sublime Fred and Ginger in Top Hat. For The Artist and for the Mile End Genesis. I hope the experiment works.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Maybe RBS needs a different kind of boss?

So Roger Carr of the Confederation of British Industry thinks that when Stephen Hester failed to receive his bonus of nearly a million pounds the prospect of finding the best person to run a British bank next time we nationalise one was damaged. He said so in The Times. (Yes, I know. Paywall. Boo.) 

"The chances of enticing others to take on difficult tasks of national importance have undoubtedly been jeopardised," wrote Carr.

Let's unpack that, shall we?

First, why does he believe it would be necessary to "entice" someone? What if, when a CEO left, everyone else at the bank moved up a slot in the hierarchy and someone from university were recruited for the job at the bottom of the rung? Is that just too silly as a theory? Or are chief executives of banks so solipsistically creative that you could never learn to do their jobs by watching them closely and talking to them about it five days out of seven? To assume not suggests that the wrong deputy has been recruited. Let's hope that Stephen Hester has a bevy of deputies watching his every move, so they can compete against each other for the position of CEO of a recently nationalised bank the next time it comes up.

Or why not consider the  the notion that the most important quality to look for in the best person to be head of a publicly owned bank is that they are not motivated solely by money? Quite apart from anything else, to be motivated solely by money would make them, charitably, a loose cannon. Less charitably is would make them a sociopath and potentially a criminal who would do anything in their own financial interests. How about a chief executive for RBS who would be motivated to do a good job because they have a sense of honour in addition to the requisite banking skills? Surely if, as bankers always argue, you need the right person for the job then the criteria must include that the bank is publicly owned and that therefore the person to run it should be able to see outside of their own narrow intererests? You must cut your cloth accordingly. How about enticing someone with £1.2 million a year and the applause of a grateful nation?

Many of us chose jobs because we thought they'd be interesting, not because they'd enhance our prospects of being buried in a golden coffin one day. I'm just saying. I don't believe that banking, when done right, can be *so* personally unrewarding that the only consideration of the people employed in that industry must be money. If it is, then I won't be the first person to suggest that it's not being done right. Moreover, those who suggest that the value of a job, or the skill of the person doing it, is only quantifiable by the salary attached to it are ideologues as surely as Stalin was. And by that I mean, once again, unhinged.

Robert Kennedy was right about the value of money.

Stephen Hester has a basic salary of £1.2 million a year and has taken home £11 million in shares and cash since October 2008.

The idea that RBS, or any other bank, would have trouble recruiting someone brilliant with this remuneration package is so entirely ludicrous that the most surprising thing is that someone - Roger Carr - who was previously assumed to be of sound mind would go on the record saying it.

It brings to mind another recent story. It was about the BBC - also a public sector organisation - and how it will be looking for a "cut-price director general" as the replacement for Mark Thompson, who apparently earns £671,000 a year. Apparently they'll be looking for someone who's prepared to be paid less.

And which names were being bandied about? Helen Boaden and Caroline Thompson. Oh, and some token bloke called George Entwistle.

So what do we learn from this?



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Sunday, 29 January 2012

Why build a new airport in the Thames estuary when there's already one up for sale?

Politicians attempting to get elected like to razzle dazzle the voters with eye-catching proposals. Newt Gingrich is offering Americans a base on the moon. And London's own Boris Johnson has come up with, um, an idea for a new airport... But it's on an island, giving it overtones of Goldfinger (Gold Fingaaaahhhhh... With apologies to Shirley Bassey :-))

Anyway. I haven't had much respect for this idea since I saw Germaine Greer demolish the proposal on Question Time. She pointed out that the area the mayor wants is in the middle of one of the biggest bird protection areas in Europe and that the risk of bird strike makes it unworkable. You can't simply move birds because they don't speak English.

Slam dunk?

I'm not against the idea of more airports per se. For instance, I'm susceptible to the idea that in order to do business with China we need flights that go there. But it's not clear to me why we can't send these crucial flights from our existing airports - surely it's up to the government to make our economic priorities part of the airport authorities' remit?

Then last week I had my attention drawn to this. It's a story on the BBC's website saying that the airfield closest to central London is up for sale. RAF Northolt occupies hundreds of acres in Hillingdon, just outside the M25, and the MoD is considering selling it.

"All options are on the table" the MoD says.

Has anyone told Boris Johnson?

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Art on the Tube is bad news for small businesses

There are no longer any adverts as you go down the escalator at Bethnal Green tube station. What there is instead is this.

Now, I know there's a recession on and that advertising is therefore harder to come by than it has been. However, I'm deeply unimpressed by this and not just because it is described by TfL as "Art on the Tube". It's somebody's oeuvre. I'm not going to be rude about it.

Before this artwork appeared there were a series of A3-ish sized adverts in frames up and down the escalators. When I rang TfL to ask what had happened, this is the response I got: "The posters were a non-standard size for the advertising industry. Due to the constraints at the station the standard sized panels could not be installed."

I attempted to unpack this with Sylvia from the press office, since it was a little, shall we say, opaque. But it was apparent that she was reading an answer she'd received from someone else and wasn't able to explain what she meant. A request to speak to someone about Art on the Tube has, so far, gone, unanswered.

Last year I attempted to buy some advertising space on the Tube for 24hourlondon. I didn't want very much, just a few panels to put my product - which I think is pretty useful - before its putative market. I hoped that word of mouth might do the rest.

But I was unable to do so because I was told by CBS Outdoor, who are contracted to do all the advertising on the Tube - that they didn't sell it in blocks worth less than £10,000. I don't have this kind of money to spend on advertising as I might need it to, you know, eat.

My point is this. The panels that were ranged up and down the escalators at Bethnal Green were ideal for local businesses because they were seen by people who were actually in a position to take advantage of the products and services they advertised. Surely at a time of recession, when many people are struggling to stay afloat, it would be a service worthy of a business-orientated Mayor of London to allow local businesses to use these spaces to advertise, rather than simply handing it over to space-maker Art on the Tube. In these economically straightened times, this is an appalling and thoughtless waste of prime advertising space.

Giving up completely - which is what this hoarding represents - is deeply unhelpful, although it may well be part of CBS Outdoors' wider strategy, which evidently involves spending vast amounts of money on digital advertising underground for multinationals.

But what about London's small businesses? The ones that are starting out, or the ones that aim to provide useful products and services for local people. The ones that are, you know, keeping people in work and off the dole but to whom an advert on the tube might be the difference between laying someone off and not laying them off? Don't they deserve a chance to put their products before their market?

I'd like to be able to buy a handful of panels at different stations across London without having to spend £10,000. CBS Outdoor and Boris Johnson could do a service for small businesses by loosening up their policy and focusing it on the businesses that represent London's future.

What are they thinking?

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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Starbucks in embarrassing grammatical error

Horatio respects and admires the planet as much as the next seafarer. But really...

Anything you can count is FEWER. Not less.


And how would you get "more planet"? Build an extension?

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Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?