Sunday, December 02, 2012

Banned by the Chinese!

News reaches me from a Maggot Sandwich reader in China, that the Chinese authorities have taken such a dislike to my online meanderings that they have banned my Blog, and blocked access to the site. Quite why they have done this eludes me; how they even came across it is also a mystery to me. I don’t recall ever writing anything that could be construed as subversive or critical of the Chinese regime – as far as I can recall I have not even posted a negative review of a local Chinese restaurant! To be honest, I am treating it as a left handed compliment; that some faceless civil servant in the Ministry of censorship (or whatever the department responsible is called) can consider the rambling thoughts of a bloke in a small and not very well known South East London suburb could affect the stability of the totalitarian Chinese regime is patently ridiculous; I get the feeling that China’s web censors have got rather too much time on their hands. I wonder if I would get arrested if I ever went to China? This is highly unlikely as I don’t own a passport, and in any case I detest travel. Please leave a comment below, as always.

The infamous Arabfly Dangleway (the Emirate Airline cable car) is doing absolutely terrible business; on one day recently, it only got a total of 301 passengers – admittedly part of the reason for this was local high winds, causing the service to be stopped for several hours. The cable car is very vulnerable to poor weather. London Mayor Boris Johnson was keen that the cable car would become a major commuter route across the Thames. This has not proved to be the case. An average of 78 people use the cable car between the hours of 7am and 10am on a work day, with most of the gondolas empty for hours at a time. Things improve in the afternoons and weekends, but analysis of the traveller data suggests that it is then being used by tourists, rather than commuting Londoners. Multi trip ticket sales (likely to appeal to commuters) have failed to reach double digits; on three days, only one pass was sold, whilst on two other days, no multi passes were sold at all. As had been pointed out when the service launched, the inability of people to use conventional travel cards or Oyster tickets has severely affected the take up of the cable car as a method of travel – on top of this, it does go from nowhere to nowhere. A much better idea would have been to build it in central London, for example, close to the London Eye, and treat it as an out and out tourist trap – which I am sure it would be. Although the cable car is sponsored by Emirates, it is subsidised by the London tax payer to the tune of £24 million. I wonder how long it will be before the general public start asking whether it represents value for money?

Erith featured in the national press this week; unfortunately it was for all of the wrong reasons. The killer of three year old Erith toddler Rhys Lawrie was sentenced at the Old Bailey to a total of five years in jail for Manslaughter and Actual Bodily Harm. Cameron Rose pumped the air in delight when he was then told by the judge that he would only spend half of the sentence in youth custody; he would be released after two and a half years. Readers of the story in the press have been outspoken in their condemnation of the pitifully short sentence. The talk back on the News Shopper website is typical of the public opinion regarding what is seen to be a soft punishment. You can read more about it here.

Now that I no longer have to use buses as much as I did in my days of Dad visiting, my encounters with eccentric, bolshie or simply outright loony members of the travelling public have much reduced; whilst this has done much for my peace of mind, it has not made much for interesting blog updates. I need not have worried. On Saturday morning I was standing at a bus stop, waiting for the 99 bus to take me up to Mum’s for lunch. I was looking down the road for possible signs of an approaching double decker, when I saw a figure in the periphery of my vision. The woman was in her fifties, and rather eccentrically dressed. She had a multicoloured sequinned beret and a rainbow coloured knitted poncho on – she looked like her vertical hold had gone – it certainly got my eyes rolling. I studiously ignored her, until she did the unforgivable and not only invaded my personal space, but put her hand on my shoulder! I dislike physical contact, triply so when it is someone I don’t know. I shrugged her off and turned around “Did you feel the wind on Wednesday?” she said. Not knowing where this was heading, I said “no” as I stepped away from her. She then went on “oh, it coincided with a lot of UFO sightings in the West Country – you know that UFO’s control the weather?” At this point I was positive she had beamed down a few too many times. I backed away from her, wondering if she was mad, on drugs, or both. Fortunately at this juncture the 99 bus turned up, and I noted with some relief that she did not follow me on board. I do seem to attract the eccentric; for some reason I seem to be a “nutter magnet” I wish I could work out why. Is it something in my demeanour that attracts the local space cadets? I really don’t know the answer to it.

I mentioned a few Maggot Sandwich issues ago that Erith severely lacks in proper “sit down” restaurants. This unfortunately is not likely to change in the near future; as a bit of a compromise, I am now considering restaurants that are within a short bus journey from Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. The first place I have visited is Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (no “Nuxley Village – there is no such place, despite the protestations of a couple of commenters on last weeks update). On Friday evening I paid a visit to the Spice Master Indian Restaurant. I have visited the place on a few occasions in the past, but it was my first time in a couple of years. The restaurant is huge – at a guess, something like 120 covers, though it may actually be more than this. Years ago the building housed an Italian bistro called Le Dolomiti,  though that was closed down after a disastrous visit by the health inspectors (and several nasty cases of food poisoning, if I recall correctly).

Anyway, Spice Master, as it is, is by far the biggest eaterie in Upper Belvedere, or possibly even the whole borough. The dining area is open plan, and even has a small dance floor in the centre - see the photo above. Several times a month the restaurant has a singer performing – quite often a tribute act such as an Elvis or Michael Jackson impersonator. I am not too keen on this kind of thing personally – you cannot hear to talk when the singer is performing, and for me talking is part of the whole dining out to eat experience. Food – wise, the restaurant is pretty standard high street curry house, that is, Anglicised Bangladeshi dishes. The food is good, though not spectacular, portions are decent and service is excellent – the waiting staff to visitor ratio seems higher than in most curry houses in the area. My visit was on a Friday night, and I suspect that they may well have deployed a few extra pairs of hands to cope with the increased number of guests that the weekend brings. I must admit that my own menu choices were pretty pedestrian – Chicken Korai (a dish that gets overlooked by some people, yet when they see, hear and most importantly smell the wonderful aroma of the chicken and peppers sizzling on the cast iron skillet that the dish is served from, they then wish that they had ordered it too).  Along with this I ordered mushroom pilau rice and a garlic naan – anything with mushrooms and garlic is always a favourite with me. Spice Master is never going to set the world alight from a culinary standpoint, but that is not what it is about – it knows its’ role – a large, bustling curry house with regular entertainment that a lot of people will like. An avant garde fine dining restaurant would just not work in Upper Belvedere, and it would be pointless trying. The owners of the Spice Master know what works and stick to it, which seems eminently sensible in my opinion.  If you have visited the place, please feel free to leave a comment on your thoughts about the restaurant.

Sky Arts HD continues to impress me with the scope and depth of their content; only the other night I was watching a behind the scenes documentary about the history of Jean Michel Jarre’s giant live concerts, from his first open air gig in the Place De La Concorde in Paris, through his ground breaking 1981 concerts in China, up until his contemporary appearances, in a series of concerts featuring period synthesisers (including the huge, telephone exchange-like Moog Modular). All this antique analogue  electronic kit made each concert a bit of a gamble, as in almost every concert, some but of equipment would fail or go out of tune. It certainly added a level of unpredictability you don’t get with modern digital musical instruments! More of this later.

I have never been much of a computer gamer, as I lack the reflexes, co-ordination and patience to play arcade style games. The one type of game I do like is one that died out almost completely at the beginning of the 1990’s – the text only adventure game. If you are unfamiliar with this genre, let me explain: Text adventure games were just that – no graphics, just a prose description of your characters surroundings and any objects that might be present. Controls of the game were usually verb, noun – as in “take sword” or “go East”. The games usually presented a series of puzzles, quite often set in a fantasy or science fiction environment, which had to be solved in order to finish the game. Two companies dominated the text adventure market – Britain’s Level 9 and the American giant Infocom. Both companies reflected their home countries pretty accurately; Infocom were the “Rolls Royce” of text adventures – in a time of 8-bit computers, their language parser was amazing, instead of just verb, noun instructions, you could verb, noun, condition – as in “pick up lamp if troll away” and similar. At the time, it was pretty amazing stuff You can read about how the language parser and virtual machine worked by clicking here. The down side to this cleverness was that all Infocom adventures came on floppy disc only, and they were renowned for their packaging. All of their games came in elaborate boxes with all sorts of background information – faux newspapers, scratch and sniff cards and suchlike. This was actually very cunning. Infocom were aware that their games were extensively pirated, and that the anti piracy technology of the time often made genuine copies unplayable. Instead Infocom did not use any kind of copy protection at all. The trick was that the accessories that came in the game box included a number of clues you needed to complete the game – no accessories, no way to finish the puzzle. Infocom games were also very expensive – usually around £35 in 1984, which was pretty eye watering when you could pick up a conventional title for a Commodore 64 or Sinclair Spectrum for £7.99 on cassette. You can read more about Infocom, and play all of their games on a web based emulator here. If you get horribly stuck (and believe me, you will!) You can find step by step walk through solutions for every game if you click hereLevel 9 were Britain’s answer to Infocom – the difference being that all Level 9 text adventures were cassette only from the outset – reflecting the far more austere home computer market in the UK at the time. Level 9 was set up and run by three brothers initially from their family home (a very common occurrence at the time). They advertised in specialist magazines such as Computer and Video Games, and Personal Computer World and quickly got a reputation for huge, complex adventures that seems far too vast to possibly run from a cassette. The secret to this was their development of a special highly compressed database in each game, which stored far more locations and items than a conventional system. I played several Level 9 games and found them both gripping and frustrating at the same time. One absolute must for any person playing a text adventure is a pad of A4 squared paper on which to map the location of the adventure as you explore. Without mapping,  one invariably gets lost, and either gives up in frustration, or gets the character killed by a wandering monster. Text adventures also stretch the players imagination and ingenuity; the puzzles within both Infocom and Level 9 games often needed a high degree of lateral thinking. They were the diametric opposite of the usual reflex testing arcade shoot – em – ups that were so popular at the time, probably why I enjoyed them so much. You can read more about Level 9 here.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my main Apple iMac died and is not economically repairable. I have been making do with my old Intel Atom processor based Asus netbook running Mint Linux. Using the netbook as my main computer has really thrown its' deficiencies into sharp relief. Even though Linux has a lower hardware requirement than Windows, the little computer is really struggling. It only has 1Gb of RAM and a very slow processor. It will just about play standard definition video on the external 1920 x 1080 monitor, but if an Email arrives during playback, it loses the plot completely - and before you say it, I know I am most definitely asking a lot for it to output anything at all at the resolution it is using. Anyway, whilst the new range of desktop iMacs have just been announced, I don't realistically think I have any chance of getting one before the new year; instead I am contemplating purchasing a replacement for the netbook. A tablet is not much use to me, as I need a full travel keyboard, and the only tablets with functional keyboards are the lovely Asus Transformer Infinity range, but as a second machine, it would be difficult to justify the over £600 price tag. Instead, I am contemplating a Chromebook - such as the Samsung Series 5 550, which is only around 2/3 of the price.

The video clip this week is of Jean Michel Jarre, playing "Rendezvous IV" to a live audience. Who says I don't plan these things?


  1. Re "Infocom",in a recent episode of"The Big Bang Theory"I think Sheldon wet his knickers when he came across a similar game.

  2. I am just glad I am not the only one who seems to attract the eccentric conversationalists. (although I can dress a bit weirdly myself - so perhaps that is what draws them?).

    Most encounters are amusing, but one a few years ago outside a tool shop in Dartford was more alarming.
    Husband and son had gone inside to buy something, but I looked at the window display from outside - intrigued by a massive, display size, Swiss army knife. Suddenly a man siddled up to me and started a conversation about pen-knives! Then he told me that his had 120 attachments - and drew it out from his pocket (never seen a pen-knife like it!) - proceeding then to withdraw each part and tell me its function. Husband and son emerged from shop and hovered a few shops away smirking.

    I then began to think that if I stopped showing interest the man might suddenly withdraw an attachment capable of doing me harm and for at least half an hour I was a captive audience. Finally I managed to smilingly withdraw and on confronting my family about why they hadn't rescued me they said that they thought I was having one of my interesting encounters and didn't want to spoil it!