Film and theatre

In the last ten days or so I’ve had a birthday, seen Hamilton, seen The Last Jedi for a second time, and got another couple of episodes of Black Sails in. All of these things are excellent and I heartily recommend them. (More Hamilton London tickets going on sale at the start of next week!)

(TLJ spoilers upcoming.)

The Last Jedi was, I think, better the second time around, because I was less anxious about Were They Going To Fuck This Up and could get on with enjoying it. And with spotting the bits and pieces I missed last time. Like the books in the drawer in the Falcon at the end; and, close to the start, Luke saying irritably to Rey, “What, did you think I was going to march out with a laser sword and face down the First Order single-handed?”. The final scene with Luke and Kylo Ren — and the cut at the end to Rey, the real Last Jedi — was even more epic second time around. I still think it was a smidge too long, but I enjoyed all of it regardless.

And now I’m about to have a virtual film night watch of Rock of Ages. I feel in need of popcorn ūüôā


The Waste Land For Babies!

I am in VENICE, which is ace. (Although I cannot recommend a night on a sleeper train with a vomiting baby. Having said that, I cannot think of any *better* way of travelling with a vomiting baby, so my preference for trains remains undiminished.) (Leon thankfully recovered within hours, in plenty of time to be cooed over by Italian grannies.)

Anyway, this post is not to talk about lovely Venice, but to say, if you didn’t already know, that Marna’s fabulous Kickstarter, The Waste Land For Babies (picture book edition), ends tomorrow, so pledge your pennies now! Leon got the laminated original version for his Christmas so I am confident in declaring its awesomeness. Click! Love! Back! And, in due course, read and adore.

misc, permaculture

Online distraction

I spent a weekend recently at the Ecolodge in Lincolnshire, an off-grid cottage in a couple of acres of meadow and woodland. Doop, the Sidney-dog, and I spent a very lovely four days reading, chatting, doing a jigsaw puzzle, snoozing, and walking around the grounds.

It gave rise to some thoughts around distractions and my ability to get things done. There’s no mains electricity at the Ecolodge, so no wireless, no 3G (we turned our phones off on arrival)… No phone calls or texts. No email. No Internet at all.

I was suddenly very aware of my reflex to reach for the refresh button (on my RSS reader, on Twitter, on one of the forums I read) every time I have a moment where I’m not doing something else. Or, more importantly, a moment where I am doing, or trying to do, something else, but in some sense don’t want to be. Something I’m procrastinating on; something I’m scared of; something I’m finding challenging. The myriad distractions of the Glorious Internet are there to help me escape every time I have a difficult moment.

If that were satisfying in itself, perhaps it might be indicate not that I have a distraction problem, but that I need to check how many of the things on my to-do list are really important to me. But it’s not; after half an hour of reading blog posts I rarely feel satisfied, or better about anything much at all. It’s not that there isn’t some great writing out there; it’s about the way I approach that writing, not as a worthwhile thing in itself, but as an escape-route.

After two days of information-detox, I noticed myself feeling calmer, and less twitchy. I even got some writing done. Two days later, though, I could feel the stress levels rising again as I switched my phone back on.

I’ve tried “offline Sundays” before and enjoyed them, but stopped again for no readily apparent reason after a month or two. I’ve tried “two working days a week offline” before, too, and whilst I enjoyed that too, it lasted barely a the fortnight. This time, I broke my attempted resolution of a week off “recreational” browsing about two hours after I got in the front door.

I don’t want these distractions. I don’t want to be numbing my discomfort every time I sit down to tackle a complicated task. I want either to get on with doing that task, or to talk to the monsters a bit and find out why I’m uncomfortable) with it. On the other hand, nor do I want to lose my online reading habit altogether. It’s still true that there is plenty of good stuff out there, and there are friends I want to keep up with.

The problem is that I still don’t know how to manage those things. I’m choosing to see it as a good first step that I’m asking the question; that I’m catching myself when I reach for that refresh button, even if all I do is observe myself allowing the distraction to take over. It’s a start.

activism, misc

Travelling from London to Belfast overland

Over the last couple of years, I have travelled from London to Belfast overland several times, and in several different ways. Herewith a summary of the various options. Note that timings are from London Euston – Belfast/Larne Port; I believe there’s a free bus from Belfast Port to Belfast city centre, and from Larne there’s a train. Both will take about an hour to reach the centre of Belfast.

Holyhead/Dublin (overnight)

Route: Train to Holyhead, ferry then bus to Dublin, train to Belfast
Cost (single): £42 RailSail
Time: 13h30 (overnight)
Epicness: High. Lots of waiting around in Holyhead. On way out: sleep on nice-ish sofas on ferry & fairly comfortable seats on second train. On way back: hideous 4 hours on Holyhead station floor. NEVER AGAIN.
Notes: Daytime route might feel less epic (no need to attempt sleep) but probably even more boring. There is a pub near the station at Holyhead which was open till 2am last Thursday & had a 50p pool table. It also had karaoke in the other bar & someone throwing up in the Ladies, so, yes. Holyhead not the classiest of locations.


Route: Train to Stranraer, cycle*** to Cairnryan, ferry to Larne
Cost (single): ~£60??
Time: ~13h30
Epicness: Moderately epic. Very, very early (0539) start from Euston when we did it outbound, as that was the cheapest train available by a long way. Unsure of timing inbound; possibly also quite epic. Fair amount of waiting around.
Notes: Not sure they take foot passengers (also, 6mi from Stranraer station, though see below re Cairnryan as replacement for Stranraer from Nov 2011). Nice bike ride to Cairnryan; cafes are available in Stranraer while waiting around.


Route: Train to Ayr, coach to Cairnryan, ferry to Larne. Alternatively, could cycle to Cairnryan as with the Cairnryan/Larne option, but I’m not sure how that would work with the RailSail tickets.
Cost (single): ~£50 daytime RailSail, upwards of that overnight**
Time: Outbound : ~14-18h (overnight); 12h (daytime)
Inbound: 16h30 (overnight); 10h30 (daytime)
Epicness: Going overnight from London, if you’re lucky you should make the 07:30 train out from Glasgow (sleeper arrives 07:20). Otherwise the next train is 11:42 (tickets would still be valid), so that’s a lot of waiting around. Left luggage costs ¬£5 per item, if you want to spend the spare 4 hrs exploring Glasgow. Either way, there’s a 1h30 wait in Cairnryan. Daytime, timings are either Euston 05:39 – Belfast 17:45, or Euston 09:30 – Belfast 21:45.
Coming back, overnight there’s a 2h20 layover in Glasgow (opportunity for dinner!). Daytime, timings are Belfast 07:30 – Euston 18:00, or Belfast 11:30 – Euston 22:22. Everything matches up well until reaching Glasgow (where at least there are more entertainment options than in Cairnryan, if you are waiting around).
Notes: There is nothing at all in Cairnryan other than the ferry terminal, at least the last time I was there; take sandwiches, unless they’ve improved the ferry terminal catering during their upgrade. If coming back overnight, I would recommend dinner at Bella Italia on Hope St in Glasgow, which is conveniently close to the station. (Might also be good for lunch on the daytime option.)


Sadly NO LONGER AVAILABLE from late Nov 2011

Route: Train to Stranraer (change at Glasgow), ferry to Belfast
Cost (single): £46 daytime RailSail, >£50 overnight**
Time: 12h daytime, 16h overnight (but mostly on sleeper)
Epicness: 0539 start from Euston daytime on way out; otherwise all matches up well, pretty non-epic. Overnight coming back beautifully smooth. Trains overnight going out appear not to match very well. Ferry actually quite nice, ditto Belfast Port.
Notes: Technically haven’t actually done this one outbound in the daytime, but Cairnryan route is the same trains. There’s an hour layover in Glasgow for the daytime option, or 4 hrs if taking the sleeper.
Coming back on the sleeper is lovely. Ferry & train matched up beautifully; sleeper train a genuinely pleasant experience involving whisky in the lounge car.


Route: Train to Troon (change at Glasgow), ferry to Larne
Cost (single): ??
Time: 9h returning
Epicness: Trains don’t join up with ferry v well, and very early start. Otherwise civilised.
Notes: Haven’t done this Troon-Larne, only Larne-Troon. Only runs in the summer. No foot passengers, I think, so you’d have to cycle.


Another option! Reviewed here (summary: now the best bet IMO but more expensive).


* Endpoint for these is Larne, not Belfast. Train from Larne to Belfast Central is I think about an hour; they’re not wildly frequent.

** ¬£27 Glasgow-Belfast (RailSail). Then you need to buy the London-Glasgow leg, which if taking the Caledonian Sleeper is more complicated. IN THEORY you can get ¬£19 bargain berth overnight sleeper tickets; in practice it’s nearly impossible, although if you can be flexible about the dates, you can get ¬£39-¬£49 singles. From ¬£53.50 for an advance sleeper (¬£88 standard non-advance); from ¬£25 for advance seated sleeper (¬£51.50 standard non-advance).
*** Note that bike helmets are now a legal requirement in Northern Ireland, which may affect your willingness to take your bike over there. It certainly puts me off. Update: this didn’t make it into law; you’re still free to cycle in NI with or without a helmet as you prefer. (Thanks to commenter below for correction.)


I think if neither time nor money were a factor, my preference would be to go via Stranraer, or as of next month, Cairnryan (to Belfast) both ways. Probably in the daytime on the way there (though last time we went overnight), and definitely overnight on the way back.

If time is a factor and money is available, overnight out via Holyhead and back via Stranraer is a reasonable compromise between cost/comfort/waiting around. It avoids taking a day of leave just to travel (even with the overnight Stranraer/Cairnryan option, you won’t reach Belfast until late afternoon/early evening), and avoids the hideous overnight return via Holyhead; and it saves money on the outbound less-hideous Holyhead trip. However, you won’t get much sleep, and what you do get will be on sofas on the ferry or on the Dublin/Belfast train. The overnight Stranraer/Cairnryan option with the sleeper is much more comfortable.

If cash-poor but time-rich, daytime both ways via Stranraer (Cairnryan as of Nov 2011) is only £4 each way more expensive than Holyhead and way, way nicer, especially as the very early start from Euston is not obligatory. The Larne option was OK but a bit faffy.


Traffic on the Thames

From the balcony of our new house, right next to the Thames, we have an excellent view of the river traffic going up and down past our front door. There’s not that much of it considering the size of the river (certainly not compared to, say, when the Pool of London was a real port, and its wharfs and warehouses, the remnants of whose slipways and jetties you can see on the foreshore when the tide’s out, sat where our estate does now), but it’s still fascinating to watch.
Nearly opposite us there’s the river police HQ, and their motorboats buzz up and down at intervals. The other day I saw two police motorboats and a rubber dinghy full of about 15 black-clad river coppers apparently running some kind of training exercise.
The¬†river bus and river tours boats run quite frequently. Unfortunately for their use as a genuine part of London’s transport network, travel on them isn’t¬†included in a Travelcard,and fares are quite high,¬†though Oyster discounts are available.
Then there are the miscellaneous boats; party boats and cruise ships and rubbish barges and little tugs. Even better than just watching them, if you’re lucky you can find¬†out who they are.¬†The fascinating MarineTraffic website shows tracking information for vessels all over the world via a Google Maps overlay, and includes a lot (although not quite all) of the vessels on the Thames. The unofficial Tower Bridge Twitter account @towerbridgeitself also¬†tells you when the bridge opening, for which vessel, and in which direction they’re travelling.¬†Check out who it’s following on Twitter if you’re interested in other bridges, too.¬†
And while we’re on the subject of river information: don’t forget that the Thames tide tables¬†are also available (in a limited way, anyway)¬†via Twitter.