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Five and a half years after the launch of Eurostar, I still think it's amazing that those guys with the hard hats have managed to dig a tunnel under the English Channel. What also amazes me is that having done the hard bit they forgot to link London and the tunnel with railway tracks that work. The difference between the English and French sides is incredible. Total journey time between London and Paris is three hours; 50 miles between London Waterloo and the entrance of the tunnel takes one hour ten minutes, including a stop at Ashford, Kent; tunnel takes 20 minutes; 150 miles from tunnel to Paris Gare du Nord takes an hour and a half! I look forward to the two and a half hour high speed link between London King's Cross and Paris which has now been granted planning permission and is due to launch in about ten years time. Until then three hours will have to do, and ain't bad compared to the ferry and the long drive. Prices are pretty good, starting at £69 return London-Paris; I booked on the Internet at eurostar.com and their server didn't fall over unlike a lot of the so-called e-commerce enabled travel companies. This is still the quickest way to get from the centre of London to the heart of Paris. It could be quicker that's all.
People have a thing about plane crashes - just witness the success of Channel 4's Black Box and the acres of newsprint dedicated to the Lockerbie atrocity if you don't want to believe me. This site is for those people. Quite simply it contains every single bit of information available about almost every plane prang there's ever been. It justifies the provision of this ghoulish data by claiming to be "the definitive source for aviation safety related information on the internet" and speaks in a very knowing tone using all the proper airline industry terminology to back this up. There's loads of stuff here: breaking news, official accident reports, actual movies and photos of crashes, even transcripts and recordings of doomed Cockpit Voice Recorders - "Pull Up! Pull Up!". You get the feeling that a lot of work has gone into this site; these people really "care" about crashes. Definitely worth a visit.
"Stephen Hawking Builds Robotic Exo-Skeleton". "Muhammad Ali Wins World Jenga Chamionships". "Mountain Dew Users May Go On To Use Harder Beverages". Welcome to the twisted world of The Onion, possibly the funniest site on the Web. They tout themselves as America's Finest News Source, providing a satirical look at the news and the society it reflects; sure, it's from an American viewpoint, but apart from the odd gag most of the material still works on a UK level. The site is updated every week, ensuring that the content remains fresh and relevant, and all material is archived in an easily accessible format which will ensure that your first visit is a lengthy one. When trawling the archives look out for the Computers and Technology section - only then will you discover how evil Bill Gates truly is. As well as news pieces, the site features incisive editorial ("We Can Put A Man On The Moon, But We Can't Make Killer Robot Police?), film and music reviews, and the hilarious Red Meat comic by Max Cannon, once serialised by GQ Magazine but alas no more. If you've got a sense of humour, you'll love the Onion.
The Daily Mail is an incredibly successful newspaper with a circulation of about 2.2 million that puts it on about the same level of popularity as the mass-market Mirror. Indeed it sells twice as much as its middle-market competitor the Express, once the King of Fleet Street in its '60's heyday. To me this represents a savage indictment on British society. Quite simply the Daily Mail is the worst paper on the market, unless of course you are a moaning Middle Englander who thinks that today's youth are irredeemably lost to drugs and dance music and that Channel 4's evening programming comes straight from Satan himself. Screaming headlines that hysterically proclaim the moral demise of the nation, anti-liberalist sentiment that would make any despot blanche, and political coverage that lacks any depth or even pretence at impartiality all amount to a package that seems more of a caricature of a newspaper. Remember this is the paper in which Paul Johnson denounced Michael Grade, one-time head of Channel 4, as Britain's "pornographer-in-chief" - I challenge anyone not to laugh at such exaggerated nonsense. Defenders of this ridiculous organ would argue that the Mail caters better than any other paper for female readers with its extensive Femail section. True, the section is extensive but seems to talk to women as if it's still the 1950's; if I was a woman I wouldn't want to be patronised like that. And then there's the risible Dempster's diary - who cares what the 9th Earl of Bolton Handover did last Friday? Sports coverage is reduced to the merely factual presumably as the paper's editors again rather patronisingly believe that women don't want to know about sport. The Mail/Mail on Sunday's success, together with the popularity of the Sun/News of the World and its hypocritical blend of sex and savage puritanism leads one to think that there is little appetite left in Britain
for thought-provoking news editorial. My advice to anyone with sense: do as Julie Burchill did and move from the Mail to the Guardian.
This was a bit of an impulse buy for me - I had assumed that this very popular tourist attraction would be far too busy this early on its life, especially on a Bank Holiday Monday. After being co-erced into it however by my brother I was pleasantly surprised, as I managed to get all the queuing out of the way, including buying a ticket, in about half an hour. Tickets can be bought in advance and I would anticipate that if you do this you shouldn't have to wait more than quarter of an hour to get skyborne. The ride itself was a mixed bag. The sheer size of the wheel is awe-inspiring and provoked quite a sense of excitement which lasted until about a quarter of the way into the half hour ride. After that I found that I very quickly got used to the view of London: the familiar landmarks looked equally familiar from 150m up, and try as I might I couldn't see my house. I think that this cynicism stems from the fact that I live in London and therefore pretty well know what to expect from an elevated view of the place. If however you are a visitor to London this is bound to be an exciting and enjoyable part of your sightseeing day.
Buzz is the low cost ticketless version of KLM and operates to a number of destinations throughout Europe. Booking can either be made online, in which case you receive a £2 discount, or on the phone. All flights go from Stansted. My particular experience with Buzz came about because I wanted to go to Marseille, and promisingly Buzz operates one flight per day to this destination at a lower cost than anyone else (from £95 return). However when I tried to book online, having gone through a lengthy form filling process I was informed that the server was busy; this happened all morning until I became fed up and decided to try on the phone after lunch. When I made the phone call I was informed that there were now no more seats left on the flight I wanted so I was forced to travel on another day and did not receive the online booking discount. Most unsatisfactory. As far as the journey itself was concerned everything went well until I got on the plane. The smell was unbearable and overpowering, reminiscent of cheesy feet. I'm not joking - all the passengers around me were grimacing because of the obvious aroma yet bizarrely the cabin attendants continued to smile fixedly as if unaware of the problem or choosing to ignore it. And incredibly the smell was equally pungent on the way back. It's not often that airlines are rated in terms of smell, however in this case I feel that I have no option given that this was the most distinctive feature of my flight. The only real plus was the price - the old adage that you get what you pay for rang particularly true in this case.
This restaurant is located in the Metropolitan Hotel on Old Park Lane and boasts a menu of Japanese/South American fusion food that is unequalled anywhere in the world (apart from the other three branches in New York and Las Vegas). It tries hard to be cool: the minimalist decor that is a feature of almost every new restaurant in London, the views over Hyde Park, the celebrity clientele, plus the models/waiters in their black Kenzo uniforms who attend to your every need. There is substance to their style however, as one quickly discovers that the unbelievably complicated menu is indecipherable without their help. The best plan is to put away the menu and let them recommend the dishes - I did this and was impressed by the result, a series of about 10 dishes, each one a little work of art both in terms of presentation and taste. Highlights of the menu are the "new style sashimi", which is basic sashimi but served with superb marinades and seasonings, the blackened cod, and also the sake which is served in bamboo flagons. In fact the sake menu itself is enough to be getting on with: about 15 different varieties including the rare and unusual dessert sake and even sake with gold flakes inside! If you've got either room or money left after this then the dessert menu is definitely worth a look. It changes often but when I was there I was blown away by the chilli pineapple, something which I've seen nowhere else and has to be tasted to be believed. This in my opinion is the best restaurant in London, but doesn't come cheap at about £100 a head if you go for the sake and wine as well. Well worth it for a once a year treat however book well in advance as demand is still high.
I was initially attracted to the Brixton branch of Fitness First by the relatively reasonable membership fee (only £38 per month plus a £30 joining fee) and the range of equipment and services - running machines, weight machines, free weights, free classes, free soft drinks and tea and best of all free video hire from a reasonably comprehensive library. A couple of months on however my patience is wearing thin, mainly because of overcrowding and therefore the large amount of time spent waiting for machines or weights, especially at peak times such as Monday night. A surreptitious glance at the membership book on reception confirmed that the club seems to be taking on new members at the rate of 20 a day with no sign of letting up. If the club doesn't restrict numbers soon then there will be very little point in going to it at all unless you want to just stand around. A victim of its own success.
Up to now films about gladiators have struggled to gain credibility among the Hollywood mainstream. One only has to remember the hilarious moment in Airplane! where Captain Oveur, in addition to enquiring whether he has seen a grown man naked or been to to a Turkish prison, asks the little visitor to the cockpit: "Joey, have you ever seen one of those gladiator movies?" This film from Ridley Scott puts paid to that. It's excellent in almost every respect and grabs the attention right from the start. The plot is uncomplicated: Maximus (Russell Crowe), the star general of Rome is entrusted by the outgoing Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris on top acting form) to give Rome back to the people to ensure that his evil son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) doesn't get into power. Unfortunately it all goes wrong and the new Emperor Commodus orders Maximus and his family to be executed. Maximus escapes and the rest of the film involves him killing lots of people in his new role as slave and gladiator as he plots his revenge against Commodus. Highlights include an excellent Richard Harris at the start, plus Oliver Reed in his best role yet as the manager of the gladiators. The best acting prize however goes to Joaquin Phoenix who manages to combine with great effect Commodus' smiling attempts to gain favour among the people with his increasingly demented and evil episodes. The battle scenes transfix you, Ridley Scott managing to convey the raw savagery of hand to hand battle with its sword injuries and decapitations better than anyone up to now. Very little down side to this film. The ending is a little cheesy and on second viewing (yes, I saw it twice)became almost unbearable. The choirs of angels singing and the cinematography lends the ending, particularly the dream sequence featuring Maximus' wife and child, the air of an expensive car ad - not necessarily surprising as Ridley Scott spends most of his time making
ads nowadays. Don't worry though, the first 98% of the film should leave you sufficiently dazed to let this go. All in all highly recommended.