South London FTW

It’s pre-move limbo time. In front of me I’ve got my enormous checklist of things you’re supposed to do before moving into a new house, and I’ll get round to opening my eyes at some point when the fear subsides. How does one actually deal with things which require a proof of residence in a place where you don’t actually live?

Anyway the upheaval has made me step back and think about what I’m going to be sad about when I leave my little corner of Putney, which in turn gave me an idea for a rather inward-looking blog entry. This is what I’m going to miss:

  • Commons. Barnes, Putney and Wimbledon commons are all within easy walking distance, and they have a relaxed charm that parks, with their mown grass and gates and fences never quite manage.
  • Richmond Park. There are so many good things about Richmond Park and I’ve always appreciated my luck in being so close by. Without it I’d be a less fit and ambitious cyclist, for sure. But it offers everything you could want from open space in a city – solitude, wildlife, views, grass, woodland, lakes, hills, everything. I know I’ll only be about 5 miles away even after the move but it makes a big difference.
  • The river. I’ll still be close-ish in Shepherds Bush – and indeed I discovered the other day that our new house pretty much is built on top of the now-subterranean Stamford Brook. Here’s a map of the area in 1840 – the house is more or less in the south-west corner of the central Brick Field where it meets the Brook (and here’s a modern map for cross reference – the Askew/Becklow triangle is the most recognisable area):

  • Sorry, getting sidetracked. Yes, I’m going to miss the river because at the moment I cross it a dozen or so times a week, commuting to work and heading to B’s, and every time without fail I gaze along it and it makes me happy. Like Richmond Park, it’ll suddenly be something I organise trips to, not something I assume into the fabric of my life.
  • Overground rail travel. South West Trains get a lot of stick but having their service 5 minutes from my doorstep has been a revelation. I can get pretty much anywhere via Vauxhall, Clapham Junction or Waterloo; it’s quick, reliable, I almost always get a seat, and while the stretch of south London it bisects is pretty ugly, it’s all above ground. Most importantly, it’s not the sodding District Line. Unlike where I’m moving to.
  • The views outside my window. You’d think overlooking the South Circular would be a minus, but there’s a bus stop just outside so there are always comings and goings. There’s also the daily throng of euros who come to gawp at the Le Bon house next door. It’s lively and I like it. Out back, there’s a bit of green, some treetops in the distance, some nondescript council houses, but there’s also this:
  • And I’m going to miss being a staunch soldier for the south of the river gang. For some reason I consider much of west London as honorary SOTR, so it won’t really feel different, but I won’t be able to argue for the south to rise again with any conviction from now on. P.S. north London sucks baws.
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Christmas Present

So my last entry was entitled “Fetish Movie” and shot to the top of my most viewed posts. You’re all a load of perverts, and that’s exactly how I want it to stay.

On a more family-friendly topic, there’s something in the recesses of my fuzzy cold*-ridden brain that wants to be written down, and it’s about Xmas presents.

Earlier tonight I was having a bath – like a 4th century Roman, I seem to be in a bath more than out of one at the moment – and was enjoying the classy fragrance of my new shower gel. As I type, I’m drinking a koskenkorva (another gift) and tonic while wearing new warm and cosy stripey socks. And it  occurred to me that what I really like to receive at Xmas, in a kind of fundamental and uncomplicated ooh-this-is-comfy way, are the presents that have become so clichéd that they’re considered at best unimaginative and at worst inconsiderate and embarrassing.

Socks, booze, toiletries, books, chocolate, and I love receiving every one of these things. Assuming you know me even a little bit, it’ll be really hard to get a gift like this wrong, and you can be pretty certain I’ll get use and pleasure out of each of them. Then I think of the more imaginative or original or expensive gifts I’ve received, many of them are fantastic and thoughtful and clever, but also are more at risk of being un- or under-used.

I might be being a bit blinkered here, and that there’s a bigger tier of tired Christmas novelties that I’d be sad or disappointed to receive. But I can’t think of many. Calendars, maybe? Unless they’re unique, or personal, or beautiful, or even fill a functional void. I did give a calendar this year, and perhaps I’m proving my own point by the fact that I’d have been very happy to receive it myself. Ties? I was given one by the in-laws and it’s a subtle, beautiful thing. Um, golf gifts? Unless they’re ugly novelties, they’ll at least serve a purpose. Ugly novelty golf gifts for someone with no arms? I’m stretching a bit here.

Each year, I agonise more than is healthy about buying (and it always is buying, despite more and more of my friends putting real physical effort and love into making things, which always makes me feeling a bit guilty and superficial) presents that will make the recipient gasp with impressed joy. Each year, the significant majority end up falling into the category of at-best-uninspired. But maybe I’m not alone in my feelings, and that bottle of wine or cookbook or 1-wood cover shaped like a todger will be truly enjoyed or appreciated. If I’m anything to go by, there’s hope for me yet.

*my brother, who’s a Proper Doctor, says there’s a good chance it could be swine flu. Not man, swine. How about that.

Fetish movie (SFW)

I made a movie (yeah, yeah, everyone’s doing it, I know) about one of my favourite things:

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/8175721/

A little bit of politics there

I would love to be the kind of blogger who can write about SRS ISHUZ but it seems I don’t really have it in me. Mainly, I never know enough about whatever I’m talking about to feel confident in expressing an opinion – or at least not an opinion which can’t be more lazily published in short, unaccountable form on Twitter.

However, recently I have been following more socially-conscious tweeters. Invariably they have to be funny or engaging along with it – just like my real friends have to have multiple facets, I get bored embarrassingly quickly when people just talk about, say, politics or work or what product of theirs I should be buying. But these people do at least stir the political animal in me, which I continue to be gratified to realise remains strongly and fundamentally socialist, despite my champagne tendencies and middle class self-interest.

And they’re all young(er than me). I have a very basic belief that to embrace the politics of the left* is the right and proper, even the natural, way for young people to be. I’m more aware each day that cynicism and pragmatism rule the world, and that the ever-growing desire for comfort above all can translate quickly and silently into selfish nimbyism. But I’m not young.

No, I’m not young, even if vestigial elements deep inside might beg to differ. But the young MUST fight for the rights of their fellows, MUST counter the vicious apathy of their elders, which inevitably includes the holders of power – how can it be otherwise? If their idealism and straightforward, honest appreciation of right and wrong is warped by reactionary or solipsistic thinking, then we’re all fucked, not least the complacent middle-aged who reach their dotage and are befuddled or crippled by the lack of care, consideration or even the acknowldgement by the rest of society of their needs and desires.

The grown-ups (for want of a better term that deals with, say, the ages 30-60) will always be in control. But without the checks and balances of people who are easily and deeply outraged by the injustices of the world, our lives would be that much more controlled, oppressed and ground down by the innate self-interest of the human condition. I hope the fearless, rebellious iconoclasm of youth is something primal, fundamental about their beings, because if it ever disappeared then who knows what vicious circle of degradation of human rights would follow.

 

*I’m not comfortable with this phrase. Political parties have an important function of politicising their members, but they themselves are an amoral machine of massive self-interest and offer little more than a lazy way to claim some kind of political agenda. Perhaps I’d feel differently if the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party hadn’t, in recent years, utterly let me down with their ideological shifts. Anyway, please insert a better word for “politics” here if you like.

Coffee shop follow-up

Since my Soho coffee shop study post (with accompanying updated map here), I’ve been extending my knowledge and tasting the wares of half a dozen other local coffee sellers. I’ve also changed the order of the standings of a couple of the other shops after re-sampling their mochas. Here are my thoughts, with their new entries in the standings:

  • Hummingbird Bakery — Not at all bad. The coffee is Illy (top marks) and while it’s a bit strong for me (and yes, I appreciate that if I’m looking at coffee critically I may as well say “this is a bit too high quality for me”), it’s well-balanced and classy. And this time, they didn’t look at me askance when I said I didn’t want a cupcake. (#12)
  • Foxcroft & Ginger — Perhaps the least sweet of all the mochas I’ve had and enjoyed. A hint of cinnamon is a lovely touch (I guess some people might hate it – and it wasn’t optional it seems!), and the coffee is excellent. One for the days when I’m feeling austere and grown-up. (#11)
  • Mrs Marengo’s — Really good. A lovely shop with great staff and home-made, tasty food (the vegan carrot cake, I understand, is to die for) and the mocha lived up to my hopes. Probably deserves a higher place than, say, Bar Chocolate, where I didn’t feel like my custom was terribly appreciated, though the coffee is perhaps not quite on their level. (#5)
  • Ben’s Cookies — Is it unfair to expect as good a coffee from a place that self-evidently doesn’t have it as a priority? It doesn’t matter – they have a proper coffee machine, they can make a proper coffee. Not crazy about this place – the coffee, generously sized was the most expensive coffee I’ve had so far, and the staff were a bit… shifty. I haven’t tried the cookies, but I certainly won’t go there again for a mocha – the coffee just didn’t taste right, and the chocolate was just a bit wrong. Not appalling, but really should be better. (#23)
  • Vida e Caffe — A South African chain, with three stores in central London, I learn. Ebullient and friendly staff, but just about the most expensive mocha I’ve tried (£2.80 for a regular). Flavoured with Lindt chocolate, and perhaps I’m just suggestable but I think I can tell. The coffee’s good, the chocolate is underpowered, and there’s an odd aftertaste of whisky, which may be the packaging – the cups are a different material from any others I’ve tried. Not a top-of-the-lister, but very solid nevertheless, and I’d be tempted to go back for the amazing-looking muffins and custard tarts. (#15)
  • Marks & Spencer — the fancy hot food counter in M&S Oxford Street has been a mystery to me so far as I tend to only go there when I’m trying to be relatively healthy. But today, for the benefit of this blog, I decided to purchase their mocha (medium, served in a large soft drink cup with accompanying straw-inviting lid). It’s okay, but there’s nothing either delicious or unusual about it, and the chocolate taste is humdrum. Since I’d never choose an M&S coffee on the run, or to sit in M&S and nurse a cup, I doubt I’ll be going back. (#21)

 

Cornwall part 2

I never got round to writing part 2 of our Cornish adventures, so, more to bolster my crappy memory than anything, here’s a bit more of What We Did On Our Holidays.

Being based in North Cornwall, equipped with car, worked out pretty well, although our one attempt to go a decent distance failed about halfway along as we decided making it to St Ives, taking in the views and the light, and not having to make uncharacteristic haste wasn’t going to happen. And we then failed to make it even as far as Newquay. But Padstow made up for that,a s I said in part 1, and we managed to spend a delightful and unhurried few hours in several other charming villages:

  • Boscastle, scene of a terrible flood 6 years ago (though I did slightly unworthily wonder to myself how they promoted the town before the flood), was a unique valley-in-miniature with an amazing little harbour and seals bobbing about under the imposing cliffs
  • Port Gaverne was little more than a cove and a pub, albeit a highly recommended one, and we got to have our only proper conversation with true south-westerners, only slightly spiled by the fact that they were on holiday from Somerset
  • I’d been looking forward to Bude but it was, to be honest, primarily somewhere with a supermarket – neither of us really took to it, its relative size and modernity detracting from the views and rolling cliffs and valleys. People seemed a bit surly their, too, though my driving may have had something to do with that

The other people we met, weirdly, were never locals. Even the chap who handed us the key had a midlands accent, and the woman whose tyre I replaced at the side of the road was from Shropshire, had moved to Cornwall a month earlier, was about to be made homeless and hated everyone and everything about Cornwall (she was actually lovely, just horribly disillusioned). And the ageing DJ still off his nuts on goofballs from the night before who we gave a lift to the main east-west road so he could get home to Newquay was from South Africa.

We also made it out of Cornwall for an afternoon. I took Bree to Dartmoor, which I love, though I’ve never been to the north side before. First off, we were disappointed with Castle Drogo (as you read this, say it out loud in the classic deep action-movie voiceover – this is obligatory btw) which was relatively new, almost completely invisible despite the fuss the National Trust make of the site, and didn’t allow puppies. However, Ludo was let about as loose as possible once we got to the appropriately-named Hound Tor, at one point jumping 15 feet off a rocky outcrop, rolling over and accelerating effortlessly back into a sprint, which was terrifying but kind of impressive.

The last place I wanted to mention may have been our favourite. We visited Widemouth Bay at both the start and the end of the holiday, because its awesome rock formations and wide, flat sands made it an awe-inspiring joy to clamber and gambol on.

And rather than post the best photo as a 500-pixel-wide understatement, please click here for Widemouth, and Ludo, in all their glory.

Poker part 3

This post was written a few months ago, and for some reason I saved it as a draft rather than publishing it. It’s the third in a series of posts exploring poker and, specifically, my experiences of it, following on from My Poker life, part 1, and My Poker life, part 2. There’s a good glossary of poker terms on Wikipedia, if that’s useful. Thanks for reading, and please question and comment!

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In this post, I want to get a bit further into looking at poker as a game, and give, I hope, an idea of why it’s so appealing as an intellectual exercise. Obviously I recognise I’m talking very much from my own perspective here, and a game like poker fits the way my brain works more, I suspect, than it does for many people. Fundamentally, it’s a game with an almost perfect learning curve. Once you understand the rules – memorising the hand ranks and learning how betting works – you can start to play (and you don’t have to play for money, in real life and online) and you can start to get better.

I was also able to print graphs of my winnings – here is April 2007, picked at random as it was the first one I found in my folders:

It demonstrates pretty well the way poker works in terms of success and earnings. I would have made about £200 this particular month overall, but over the course of the month it was a bit of a rollercoaster, albeit with an upward trend. The freefalls that you see at 5.7k hands and 9.2k hands are demonstrations of the concept of “variance” – horrible to go through, but very much a feature of the game . They come hand in hand with the successful runs at 200 hands, 6.5k hands and 10.5k hands – both ups and downs will happen with variance the method through which the laws of probability affect the game. And as long as there is more of the latter than the former, you’re a winning player.

The tricky part, though, is that to win big, you need both strong hands and strong play. It’s possible to lose big with strong hands, played badly, and it’s very very easy to lose big with poor hands played badly. And that’s why poker is a difficult game to master and why, most of all, it needs absolute discipline.

That doesn’t mean taking no risks, or always playing defensively – you can be aggressive and risky as long as you pick y0ur spots, and let reason rather than passion control your actions. This is easier to do when you’re winning than when you’re losing, and maintaining discipline when things aren’t going well is the single most essential quality of any successful poker player, no matter the stakes. It hurts to lose, especially as it’s real money you’re losing, and the moment you let this pain change the way you play, or take away your reason and discipline, is the moment you need to step away from the table and not play again until you’ve calmed down.

This anguish is called “tilt”, and every person who’s ever played the game has stories of multiple buyins lost through tilt, promising situations thrown away, bankrolls decimated and tantrums thrown. Minimising tilt will minimise unnecessary losses. The beauty of poker is that even the best players lose sometimes, and the worst players win – it’s why it’s such a perfectly poised game, and it’s why noobs and idiots will keep flocking to the tables, which is absolutely what you want if you’re a skilled and disciplined player. So there will always be “necessary” losses – the function of playing a game of imperfect information, relying on probability, psychology and other essential variable constructs.  But a good player will negate this types of loss by maintaining focus and allowing their skill, and the flaws of their opponents, to win in the long run.

And the long run is everything in poker. I can’t stress that enough. Literally anything can happen on the turn of one card, one play, one session. But once the hands run into the thousands, the sessions into the hundreds, the powers of probability will make their presence all the more felt, which is why, after twelve thousand hands in the above graph, I was able to be a winning player, despite all the short term fluctuations.