Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Random news

The Fifth Floor corridor at St Pancras Chambers
St Pancras: the hotel and entranceway is nearing completion – the tall lights on the walkway are in, the paving nearly finished – you can see the sweeping carriageway now; there are signs that the scaffolding may disappear by Christmas. How fun it will be to have a beautiful five-star hotel on the premises. I’ve got to know or at least recognise all the concierge staff. The night-time staff (the concierge desk is manned 24 hours *safe*) are, I must admit, merely nodding acquaintances.  Stuart, from the day-time contingent, is a cheerful guy, often found exchanging his smart concierge jacket and tie for a hard hat and hi-viz jacket as he supervises a major delivery (e.g. someone moving in) across the construction zone. In what is, for us, welcome news, we have a new door closer on the front so that it doesn’t slam in the wind. I know you wanted to know that. Oh yes – and I have also made the acquaintance of the cleaning lady who’s unenviable job it is to vacuum the corridors on Monday mornings. She calls our Fifth Floor corridor “the big one”.

Today an email was circulated saying that the residents' representatives had met with the Renaissance Hotel people and given them a 'wish list' of what we residents would like to be able to avail ourselves of once the hotel is open. Along with discounts on catering, accommodation for family & friends, and in the restaurants and bars, there was also gym, spa and swimming pool use, room service, housekeeping, catering for functions, managing our apartments like serviced apartments when we're away, and internal secure access through to the hotel. It is quite a list. We'll see what comes of it.

The sunny courtyard of the Hotel Orfila, Madrid
The Weather: ah, yes. Way too dark. Like the Arctic in winter. I find myself consulting my watch to check what time of day it is – morning? Evening? It is not particularly cold yet – my iPhone says today was 3˚ - 8˚; similar to a Sydney winter. At breakfast this morning, around the big communal table in Le Pain Quotidian where I like to sit, there was fellow on his way back home to New York. He said he was looking forward to better weather. 'But surely it's cold in New York?', someone said. 'Yeah, but it's much lighter!' A kindred soul. I find most indoor places very overheated. I’m still perfecting a system of clothing layers and various efficient methods of shedding them and putting them back on. So far there has been no need to heat the flat much at all – being in the rafters, I probably benefit from everyone else’s heating. The corridor radiators have, I noticed, been turned on. In fact, I open the highest window (the one from which a patch of grey sky can be glimpsed) sometimes to let out some heat. I don’t mind the cold, or the misty drizzle that passes for rain here. The darkness is a bit more challenging – however, I have a plan! Next week I’m going to Spain for a day. It will be lighter, I hope – though possibly not much warmer: the iPhone predicts 12˚ or 13˚. If there is light, I will sit in the courtyard of the Hotel Orfila and renew my Vitamin D stores.

Le Pain in St Pan - breakfast central

Books: I thought you might also like to know about ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ by Neil MacGregor, (you can buy it here) Mr. MacGregor is director of the British Museum, and the book tie in with a BBC radio series, as well as exhibits scattered throughout the museum. I saw a few of these interesting objects when I made my visit to the Greek and Roman antiquities, but seeing this book review recently reminded me that I need to go back and check out The Rosetta Stone:

"This lump of granite from Egypt, "about the size of one of those large suitcases you see people trundling around on wheels at airports", is, as he frankly admits, "decidedly dull to look at". It earns its place in A History of the World in 100 Objects because in the 19th century the equally dull text  on tax breaks for priests, inscribed upon it, in three different languages (Greek, demotic Egyptian and hieroglyphs)  became the key to decoding the hieroglyphic script of the ancient pharaohs.
But, more than that, the stone also has a powerful modern history of its own. It was fought over by French and British troops at the end of the Napoleonic wars, and finally taken to London. MacGregor is one of the few to point out that it is actually inscribed in four, not three, languages: on its side, we can still read, in English, "Captured in Egypt by the British Army in 1801." (from Mary Beard’s review in The Guardian on 13 Nov 2010)

I also found an interesting bookshop, but I think I'm afraid to go in. I picked up their events brochure, which advertises an evening session called "Through A Glass Darkly: Inside the Victorian Seances of the Fraudulent Mediums": 
"...but more than being told, you will be shown: magic will be performed, minds read, tales and fortunes told. Illusion, mentalism and magic meet, through a glass darkly. Performances sell out quickly, please book early."
Fancy a seance?
Interesting, you might think. Reading on, I see that other sessions have titles such as "So You Might Want To Join A Coven", "A Siberian Shamanic Storytelling Night", "Witch Hunts in West Africa" and "Jung and the Occult". There are also classes in Tarot, and monthly 'Pagan Ritual Evenings' - although there is a note saying that these "are not suitable for people who are unfamiliar with the ideas and theology of paganism", so that's me out. But there's always the "Introduction to Runecraft" or the "Goddess Workshop on Ceridwen".

Treadwell's Bookshop, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden. Just in case you want to drop in for a little Wicca. 

Lovely pool - pretend it's summer.
Health & Fitness:  I continue to get to my gym session with Dan the trainer (of 'Stomp' fame), albeit a little creakily. It turns out that Dan is also an excellent remedial masseur, which saved the day recently. I have found a nutritionist (give up caffeine, drink less wine, eat less cheese - the usual!) And I have also found some time to enjoy the swimming pool at One Aldwych (home of the health club & gym) - this is indoors, but I can pretend, can't I?

The Press: Speaking of The Guardian, I think we’re in trouble over the cricket, folks (as if you didn’t know). The Brits are being polite about it, relatively. This I see as a bad sign. What are you doing about it? Today, Queensland was described as our “struttiest, brashest state”. I am not entirely sure what that means, though I have a suspicion, and I don’t think it’s complimentary.
On Sunday I moved my press allegiance temporarily to The Observer, and was rewarded by an interesting debate on the subject “Is religion a force for good...or would we be happier without God?” One of the five participants was A.C. Grayling, Birkbeck’s own high-profile philosopher, who has been mentioned before in this blog. The debate is available here as a podcast.

A C Grayling socks it to 'em

 Amongst some familiar rehashed arguments on all sides, possibly the juiciest bit from ACG was this:

                “I visited a faith-based school and they started by saying, ‘’At this school we promote mutual understanding, and tolerance, and conviviality,’ and they were very proud of themselves for doing it. And I said, that is not something that we should praise you for – that is something we should expect from you as a minimum. It happened to be a Church of England school, but it had Muslims in it, and Catholics. And I asked each of these girls, who were all friends – I said to the Muslim girl, ‘What’s going to happen to your Catholic friend here when she dies?’ And I said to the Catholic girl, ‘What’s going to happen to you Muslim friend here when she dies?’ And so on. Oh, gasps went up from the teachers and the bishop to say you’re being divisive and you’re asking un pleasant questions, and I said, ‘No, I’m not - I’m trying to get them to think through the consequences of what they’re really committed to believing.”

The C of E bishop in question may have echoed the reaction of one of the Catholic panellists to this: “Oh, Anthony – you must stick to philosophy, do not venture into unknown territory.”

Goodness, I thought that venturing into unknown territory was the whole point of philosophy. It certainly is for me.

1 comment:

  1. You can also listen to "A History of the World..."
    I only heard the first few dozen - I needed to be on the computer looking up the photos whenever I was listening.