Top of the Rock

“I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

I, on the other hand, liked it immediately. Like London, it just has that energy that gets mind and body moving. I arrived the day after the tornado and the transport network was just getting back to normal. There were still a few problems though…

So, my highlights: Top of the Rock (the usual tourist thing of going to the top of something tall and checking the view – above); the UN HQ (below); Brooklyn Bridge (another US bridge about to collapse by the look of things); generally just hangin’ out with old friends enjoying the atmosphere with a few beers (Brooklyn Lager was pretty good); and learning to play wiffle ball in the street at 3am (not the easiest whilst half cut…) All good!

bristol balloon fiesta

I just spotted that this weekend is Bristol’s Annual International Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s biggest. The night glows are always good fun – check the video below from last year:

If the wind is in the right direction the balloons drift across the city and land somewhere between Bristol and Bath. Sometimes they don’t make it – I remember when I was about 7 or 8 a balloon landed on my primary school field as we were walking to school in the morning (they take off twice a day, the first at dawn). Pretty exciting! I’ve never taken a hot air balloon ride but I think I’ll have to one day. It looks like graceful way to travel, looking out over the West Country landscape.

let’s go nuts!

Let’s go Lansing Lugnuts that is. Last night I went to my first Minor League Baseball game. I’ve been to a couple of Major League games before, but on a nice summers’ evening it was about time to find out more about what goes on in the lower echelons of the game that has always intrigued me. When I was about 8 my uncle brought me back a Red Socks baseball and pennant from a business trip. Maybe that got it started. One of my favourite writers Stephen Jay Gould was a huge baseball fan and used the apparent extinction of the .400 batting average as an adroit metaphor in one of his books to discount the idea of evolutionary progress with humans at the pinnacle in. And of course there are the parallels with cricket.

The lower levels of professional sport rarely get heard above the din and clamour for the biggest and best teams. The FA Premiership is now the richest football league in the world and followed avidly by many fans around the world. Its transition from a league with a reputation of violence and hooliganism to one of the most marketable sporting brands in the world has come via a change in attitude and facilities. I have a vivid memory from one of my first trips to a Bristol City game in the late 1980’s (again, I must have been about 8 – I hasten to add City are not, unfortunately, in the Premiership). I needed to use a bathroom so Dad took me to the ‘Gents’ where I was confronted simply by a 10 foot wall painted black with a gutter of urine running along the bottom. The smell was ‘colourful’ as was the language around me. It was intense to say the least. How this experience has effected me later personal development I can only guess – Mum certainly didn’t approve of me going along. But the violent and abusive behaviour that once embodied watching the game is no longer tolerated and the terraces have been replaced by more manageable and comfortable rows of covered seating (and more hygienic toilets).

Apparently a similar change has occurred in the minor leagues of baseball. In the game programme was a piece about the rise in popularity of Minor League games. Season attendances in every season since 2000 have been placed in the top 10 since the leagues began and in 2006 the current record was set at 41.7 million fans. That’s more than the NBA, and more than the NFL and NHL combined, each year. Fifth Third Field in Dayton Ohio has sold out every game since it opened in 2000. But the continuing growth has come since the 1990’s and a similar attitude toward the game as has changed football in the UK. And the programme article described a lady faced by a similar toilet experience as my childhood one – it’s certainly not like that now. The emphasis has shifted toward entertainment and whilst the minor league game hasn’t changed, the crowds have. In family-friendly America this means kids. And lots of ’em.

So whilst the high pitched screaming wasn’t so good for my ears, the $9 seat in the third row along the first base line was good for my wallet and got me close to those 90 mph pitches. I have got to say though, even with my uneducated eye, the quality of play wasn’t quite up there with, say, the SF Giants. The Lugnuts gave up 4 runs in the first inning and it wasn’t looking good. But then South Bend gave up 5 in the second and from there on we cruised to victory (8-5). Highlights from ‘the game’ for me included a Lugnuts batter snapping his bat over his knee (golfer style) after he struck out with the bases loaded, and the genius sack race ‘run’ by some ‘hefty’ women from the crowd between 8th and 9th innings. I was less impressed that they wouldn’t refill my plastic beer glass when buying a second and that I HAD to have a new one. Grrr…

Regardless of the quality of play it was a good night. And seemingly the growth of Minor League Baseball is good for the cities in which the teams are located. Oldsmobile Park is leading the much needed regeneration of the waterfront area of downtown Lansing. After the game, the fireworks reflected in the windows of the old Ottawa Power Station (above) that has lain empty for over a decade. Regeneration is needed in Michigan of all places in the States, where the decline of the American auto industry has hit hard. With manufacturing in sharp decline the state and the city need to turn to alternative industries for income and regeneration. The dollars spent in the stadium are now helping to boost the local economy, and give this part of town something to build around for the future. So, let’s go nuts!

memories of a British coastal landscape

Before my impending departure to the States I’ve been out and about visiting a few places that I won’t see for a while. This week, I took my Grandmother back to the town where she grew up on the English south coast – Lyme Regis in Dorset. I’d never been and she hadn’t been back for a while so it was a trip down both new and old memory lanes.

And what steep lanes. Apparently they used drag cargo up Cobb Road from ships docked in ‘the Cobb’. They realised it was a bit much like hard work up these steepled slopes and stopped a fair while ago. But there were other war-time stories about the inclines; run-away trucks with failed breaks, careening down narrow lanes toward the sea-front, their landings cushioned not by a sandy beach but by the solid walls of the old coal merchants (it seems it’s still happening these days too). Line upon line of American soldiers snaking up and down Broad Street outside the old Regent Cinema (then The New Thing In town). Apparently it remains quintessentially British today – tea and biscuits from a china cups and saucers before taking your seats (aside the fact it shows the latest Hollywood block-busters of course).

The vertiginous topography has not only caused rapid runaway of trucks, but also the rapid (and creeping) runaway of the soil. Efforts to manage and reduce land slippage are being undertaken in parallel with a £17 million coastal defence and harbour improvement scheme. Whilst understanding that it is necessary if they want to save their sea-front industry (which has changed from sea-trading and fishing to sea-swimming and tourism), locals aren’t happy about the large new shingle banks that provide the needed protection. Sand has accumulated in the harbour over recent years and has now been joined by a nice sandy beach imported from France.

Alongside visiting the sea-side we had tea and cake at some old friend’s house – all in all a good day stocking up on memories of the British coastal landscape before I jet off across the pond.


OK, so I’m back from gallivanting and just beginning to get my brain back up to speed to after some well-needed mental free-wheeling. Well, actually, maybe free-wheeling isn’t the best phrase – rather, I needed to get my head out of my thesis and back into the real world.


And what better place to escape from the ivory tower than to Rajasthan, northern India, former jewel in the crown. Here, my theoretical assumptions were confronted and summarily dismissed by the harsh practical realities of people struggling to survive amongst a billion countrymen all sharing a common, upwardly mobile, dream. Western rationalism met Eastern mysticism. Swirling scarlet saris, spiced sauces, sweet (and sour) smells sharply contrasted pale personal computing, drab digital logic and the dreary desk-bound slog of ‘writing-up’. Confronting a hoard of fare-seeking rickshaw drivers is quite a different problem to attempting to find a single bug amongst several hundred lines of code (though a similar level of patience is useful). Needless to say this diligent young PhD scholar took a few days to get up to speed…


However, once the common ground had been found (“My name? James… Yes, that’s right like James Bond…”, “I’m from England… Yes, that’s right we beat those Canadians in the cricket last week…”) everything went swimmingly. Upon meeting some young street cricketers in Jaisalmer during the second week it was beginning to feel much more like home. The game was just like I remember my summertime street-cricket – same rules (“6 and out”), same characters (tempestuous batsmen, earnest bowlers and lackadaisical fielders) – just a little hotter and dustier than the suburbs of Bristol.


Our ‘safari’ into the Desert National Park aboard chapatti eating camels was an opportunity to get away from the mayhem – a silent night’s sleep under the stars was welcome. But even in this more remote and inhospitable environment the population size and pressure continues to grow. The government has improved water supplies recently but even now there seems to be pressure on the limited resources.


Further south, the lake-side towns of Udaipur and Dungapur were much more relaxed than the manic Jaipur and Jodhpur. Here we had time to swim, and I to find out just how unforgivingly hard marble can be when when one lands on it back first. The grand finale of our tour was the majestic and ethereal Taj Mahal. It diffuses light like a cloud. And, I am adamant, it looks bigger the further you are away from it. Then it was back to Delhi for fond farewells and enlightening twilight conversations on the nature of being, reincarnation, Karma, Reike… Thanks to all the guys for their hospitality and the fun in Delhi.


I decided not to take my camera with me – I wanted to free myself of as much technical paraphernalia as possible. So all the pics here are thanks to Erin – permalinks to the others she’s posted are listed below. Now, back to some work and preparations for my viva and impending departure for CSIS at MSU.

Picture Links:
Jaisalmer Sunset
Jaisalmer Fort
Shooting Stars
Flying James
Train Station
Palace View

Rajasthani Pictures

A missed bus gives me a couple of minutes to get online to point you in the direction of Erin’s blog ( for some pictures of our Rajasthani gallivating (i.e. the pictures posted on March 29 2007 – permanent URLs to follow in a later post).

Briefly: Busy Delhi (no belly yet), Gangaur festival in Jaipur, lakeside downtime in Pushkar, Fort and pool in Jodhpur, street-cricket in Jaisalmer, camelback desert safari near Khuri, and now on to Udaipur, Bundi, Agra and Delhi (via this unintended stop-over in Jodhpur). More soon…

gone gallivanting – back soon

Due to my recent thesis preoccupation there has been a distinct lack of blogging going on here. This situation isn’t going to be remedied for a while either – I’m off on a cheeky three-week vacation and will be offline for the duration.

In the mean time keep your eyes out for the Ecosystems paper that might be OnlineFirst at Springer by the time I’m back.

Also, checkout the recent edition of Oekologie which unfortunately I never got round to submitting to this time.

No doubt I’ll have tales from my gallivating with which to regale you upon my return in April…