Posts Tagged ‘London’

It’s an odd thing to do, to spend your day off visiting a cemetery when you have no connection to anyone there. No connection, that is, beyond the universal fate that binds everyone in its final embrace.

As one of the e8489090410_b13863a6a9_zpitaphs succinctly puts it: “Do not grieve, we are all pilgrims on a journey to the same destination.”

Highgate Cemetery in north London has many pilgrims, more than 150,000 of them, from all stratas of society and all walks of life.

Their wealth, their importance, their vanities are submerged now beneath a sea of thick ivy, their status enveloped by a tide of roots and suckers.

The greenery flows over the headstones, obliterating the pious messages and the earnest promises that they will never be forgotten.

There’ll be no loved ones visiting many of these graves, only gawpers like myself, looking for clues to the personality of the person beneath the algae-encrusted stones and tangled undergrowth.

Obelisks, once so fashionable among the hoi polloi with their echoes of a mighty civilization, lurch at drunken angles, undone by London’s clay and poorly prepared foundations.The mighty family vaults that signpost merit and importance look overbearing and vulgar.

In places the heavy blocks have tilted and cracked, undermining the impression of precision and permanence. Worse still, some facades have slipped or broken away to reveal cheap brick linings; how very common, like a sewer tunnel route to the afterlife.

The cemetery’s best known and most visited resident is the political philosopher Karl Marx whose fat head sits atop a large memorial block that requires visitors to look up at him.

There were no more than a dozen people at his funeral in 1883 but as his ideas and influence spread more and more people came to see his grave.

Because he had originally been interred in a secluded area of the cemetery access was a problem so in 1956 he was dug up and moved to the current site – such is the price of fame.

A short walk away from him is the grave of George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans, author of Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch, Adam Bede and Silas Marner. It’s big, if unremarkable given her celebrity, and she’s surrounded by friends and progressive thinkers of her time.

Far less imposi8487956923_e2eebb306e_zng is the grave of another author, Douglas Adams, who wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide ToThe Galaxy, a simple grey slab in front of which, when I was there, was a beaker of pens and pencils.

Adams was the man who said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by”.

Less imposing still is the final resting place of legendary folk guitarist Bert Jansch who died in 2011 and seems to have been hurriedly squeezed into a predominantly Polish section near the entry gate where a small plaque and a muddle of plant pots on yellowing, withered grass marks the spot.

Just a few yards from Jansch is Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, the Grenada-born, black superstar of 20s and 30s Britain, whose talent for the piano was only exceeded by his talent with the ladies. It all endly badly for him and you can read more about it here.”

Of all the epitaphs, I liked two in particular: TV presenter Jeremy Beadle who exhorted readers to: “Ask my friends” and the inscription on the stone of Janet Lockyer that simply stated: “Been there done that”.


water pouchHow much water do you eat? That was the oddly compelling title of a Ted-style 15-minute talk by Jane Withers at the inaugural IQ2 “If” conference  at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Friday.

The self-styled aquaholic is on a one-woman mission to raise awareness about water consumption and fully expects that in the future there will be a Fairtrade label for it.

The big problem, as she sees it, is that we simply don’t value water – and in her words that has to change.

She cited figures to show that much of the water we “consume” is hidden. In the UK, the average person uses 150 litres a day for domestic purposes. But that rises to more than 4,600 litres a day if you add in the total water footprint.

How does she arrive at that number? By factoring in the water used in the products and services we buy . So, for example, a menu choice of Peking Duck has a hidden footprint of 7,000 litres of water which comes mainly from the feed on which the duck is fattened.

Kenyan green beans which are often found on the shelves of British supermarkets carry more than just an air miles consideration. In Withers’ view we’ve outsourced our water footprint to countries with scarce supplies and she thinks it’s important that we know whose water we’re using and for what.

Inevitably, she believes, we’ll end up paying more for water intensive products.

In an earlier session, the manager of Shell’s global strategy team, Adam Newton, talked about how production of a kilo of beef used more than 15,000 litres of water, and a single cup of coffee 140 litres.

Newton also stated that some areas of the Middle East were using up to 65% of domestic oil production to desalinate water.

Did you know, for instance, that the world’s largest dairy farm is in Saudi Arabia? The kingdom has 29,000-strong herd of cows producing 100,000 gallons of milk per day – and that takes an awful lot of water.

Why should anyone care? Why does all this matter? Because, as Newton pointed out, the equivalent of six new Londons were being created every year and demand for water can only go up.

Withers’ 1% Water blog makes the point that 70% of the Earth’s surface is water but only 3% is freshwater and only 1% is available to us.

Incidentally, the image used to illustrate this post is a pouch by Olivia Decaris a London-based, French designer and illustrator.

It attempts to make the point that if you had to ‘milk’ your tap to get water rather than let it gush freely you might be inclined to use it more sparingly.

Assorted mayors of London, complete with chains of office, paid a visit to the BBC this week expecting a talk from the news website’s editor.

Unfortunately he was unavoidably detained so I was press-ganged to talk about emerging platforms and how I thought the future would unfold.

My spiel about iPTV, mobiles, augmented reality, near-field communication, and the moneyless society seemed to go well, but I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when one of the worshipful company asked where the power would come from to keep the connected society running.

The question was based, I believe, on this old Sunday Times story which asserts that a couple of Google searches generates as much CO2 as making a cuppa.

The Harvard researcher on whose work the report was based doesn’t accept the Times’ conclusion and the truth is that Google is well along the path of making itself carbon neutral

But in the wider context the questioner had a point – power-hungry devices in the hands of billions of people are bound to have an impact and there’s no ready answer to the question. The carbon footprint of a technology depends on what’s in and what’s out when you assess its impact.

It’s easy to see how making a call or sending a message rather than travelling to a face-to-face meeting might bring a big CO2 saving over existing technologies, and when multiplied across the billions of daily interactions the potential benefit is huge.

The carbon cost of manufacturing and distributing hardware and its ability to be recycled also has to be taken into account, especially with blisteringly fast turnover in device evolution and obsolescence.

Harder to measure is the impact of mobiles in enabling so many more connections and interactions between people then were ever possible in the past. Big thoughts and banalities are just 1s and 0s in the digital world. How do you cost a connected world?

At a pragmatic level, energy consumption and device efficiency is being tackled in multiple ways.

In the macro world memristor’s hold the prospect of chips that run 10 times faster than conventional models using a tenth of the power. There are solar chargers, hydrogen fuel cells and even ways of harvesting kinetic energy to trickle life back into a battery.

This Yoyo charger and this bike dynamo from Nokia show some of the solutions coming to the market, but I bet Harold Wilson never imagined his “white heat of technology” vision needing pedal power to keep the conversation flowing.

posterTake a group of everyday individuals who sing for pleasure, throw in some brilliant professional muscians, add a sprinkle of magic from a multi-talented American living in London and you have a wonderful choir called Eclectic Voices.

Last night I heard them perform at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, also known as the actors’ church because many famous stars either worshipped there, are buried there, or remembered there, and I was blown away.

Under the guidance of director Scott Stroman they have been moulded into an accomplished and versatile group with a repertoire that is as broad as their leader’s vibrant personality.

Using hand signals much like a platoon leader silently directing his soldiers,  Stroman played them like an instrument – now louder, now softer, repeating a phrase, or  bringing out individual voices and sections and then blending them back into the whole.

The programme included Britten’s Ceremony of Carols,  Bach’s Gloria,  a dash of jazz, and more carols including Mary’s Boy Child and Joy to the World, the last two requiring audience participation.

Sad to say, I think we were a long way short of the lusty, full-throated singing the occasion deserved.

Maybe we were collectively being polite to each other (not wanting to spoil the moment with our tuneless growling) but on a night like this no-one would have minded.

Singing for joy – not in the bath or the shower or the car – but in public with one other is so uplifting.

It’s something we’ve lost somewhere along the way in a world of always available, instant on, portable music.

We need to get back to it.

new yorker cover

The New Yorker is now available as an iPad app and is especially interesting for a couple of reasons.

You can watch a video of David Hockney using the Brushes app to create the front cover artwork, and there’s a full page Visa advert containing hotspots which link to deeper layers of information in the page.

Once you’ve tried it, conventional flat-on-the-page ads elsewhere in the issue seem positively barren.

The same rationale is behind Brainient, but for video adverts. London-based Romanian Emi Gal netted $50,000 seed funding for the project by winning a start-up competition last year and has now secured another $800,000.