Help save the docks for public use

Save the docks for public use
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East London became the focus of the world’s attention this summer with the Olympics in Stratford.  Many people hoped that the inspiring spirit of the Olympics would long continue.

It seems that for Newham council the future of sport isn’t quite so important: as they consider a planning application to permanently berth a cruise ship at the London Regatta Centre in the Royal Docks as a floating hotel.

There are dozens of other hotels in the immediate area — with some having only very recently opened — but this floating hotel at the London Regatta Centre will mean losing several lanes worth of water permanently.   All kinds of water users would be affected by this and be forced to relocate, including three Dragon Boat teams and various rowing teams.

We only have until 19 December 2012 to get as many people as possible to object to the application and save the docks for public use.  Please help by objecting to the application yourself here: and searching for application no: 12/01956/FUL

You can also help by spreading the word and sharing this as widely as possible!

The intervention

Life's a game“Most people think life sucks, and then you die. Not me. I beg to differ. I think life sucks, then you get cancer, then your dog dies, your wife leaves you, the cancer goes into remission, you get a new dog, you get remarried, you owe ten million dollars in medical bills but you work hard for thirty-five years and you pay it back and then — one day — you have a massive stroke, your whole right side is paralyzed, you have to limp along the streets and speak out of the left side of your mouth and drool but you go into rehabilitation and regain the power to walk and the power to talk and then — one day — you step off a curb at Sixty-seventh Street, and BANG you get hit by a city bus and then you die. Maybe.” – Denis Leary

I’ve been very interested in Derren Brown’s tv shows on “Fear & Faith”, exploring how a faith in something can be created, and how having faith can be a good thing. People with phobias are unknowingly given a placebo to help them overcome their fears and told to keep a video diary documenting the changes they feel. It’s pretty straight-forward stuff: the placebo works, but is reinforced through, effectively, cognitive behavioural therapy.

What interested me more was a very short segment where a girl was told she was going to take part in a show called “intervention”: as she went about her day to day life, in among the normal strangers she met would be people and situations deliberately placed to teach her something.  She would have no idea who or what they were.  As with the phobias, she would keep a video diary discussing it and speculating what the perceived interventions were trying to teach her.  She came away from it resolving to be happier, more confident and to worry less.  The twist, of course, was there were no interventions.

The idea of this intervention show reminds me a bit of the film The Game with Michael Douglas, where a wealthy businessman becomes embroiled (I love that word: embroiled. You only ever see it in a plot synopsis) in a live-action game that takes over his entire life.  Either that or what he initially thinks is a game is an elaborate and all-consuming con.  Or possibly just his descent into madness.  Either way, his life becomes interspersed with people and situations who are part of “The Game”.

In a more convulted way, David Cronenberg explores something similar in his film eXistenZ, where an inexperienced player is introduced to an all-immersive game where the characters are “stumbling around together in this unformed world, whose rules and objectives are largely unknown, seemingly indecipherable or even possibly nonexistent, always on the verge of being killed by forces that we don’t understand”.  To make things worse, he is told you have to play the game to find out why you are playing the game.  Once again, some “game characters” aren’t important, while others have specific roles to play.

But what does any of this have to do with anything?

A colleague told me over dinner recently, on a business trip, that she thinks everything happens for a reason — and that if one thing doesn’t work out, it’s because something better is waiting.  I responded politely that I think it’s a nice philosophy, but I don’t agree: I don’t think things happen for a reason, and if something you want doesn’t happen it does not mean that something better is around the corner.  Sometimes, things get worse.  Sometimes, life sucks and then it gets worse. And then it gets better, and then it gets worse. And, like Denis Leary says, “Then you die. Maybe”.

I don’t think this is a pessimistic approach to life.  Because I don’t think a lack of meaning or a lack of intervention doesn’t mean we can’t choose to learn and strive to be better.  Do people come into our lives for a reason?  Or “a season, or a lifetime” as it is popular to say?  If you put it like that, any interaction with anyone can be described: a “season” could be 5 minutes on the bus.  But what about “a reason”?

That suggests a plan, and as far as I’m concerned there is no plan. There is no plan, no plot, no rules, no game.  If you are in a relationship with someone who becomes physically or emotionally abusive they have not come into your life “for a reason”. You can learn any lessons you choose from it: that is up to you, but nothing was planned — and it does not mean something good is “waiting”.

On the other hand, free will is a very complicated and contentious issue. How much of our choices are really free, and how many are made acting on unconscious decisions that have been knock-on effects of other things? Our environment, our upbringing, our emotions — even marketing — can affect or predict the choices we will make.  When someone gets into a lift with other people, there are models that show where they will stand — and how the other people will move.  This can be applied on a much larger scale: it’s not bad and it’s not good. It doesn’t mean that even if our choices and reactions are largely the result of things beyond our control that there is any coherent plan: or that things as a whole are either good or bad.

It’s only what we choose to learn from.

On Toronto (it rains down so damn hard in this city)

ImageToronto feels almost a little strange, in a way, because it feels so familiar.

This is my third new city in the space of a about a month — though this isn’t a work trip, this is a real holiday.  The first “real” holiday in a while, since I don’t count the Arctic Adventure as a holiday — adventure, yes, and an experience I’d gladly have more of in my life, but it was a year of hard work, training, fundraising and — at times — worry.

But back to Toronto.

Toronto stirs up those familiar feelings of wanderlust, that feeling you get when you visit a new city and you think “Yes. I could live here. I could love this city”.

Munich was fine, but I didn’t feel like I could make it a home.  Dublin was grand, Barcelona definitely makes the list, and there are many more places, too — places that remind me that life is too short and the world too small to stay in London forever. Toronto joins the list.

We’ve only been here two full days (and sadly leave the city already tomorrow) and yesterday was spent dodging torrential rain showers, but as I say, it feels familiar.

My first impressions of Melbourne when I visited a few years ago were that it reminded me of a mix of New York and Manchester (among other places) and Toronto reminds me of Australian cities like Perth and Melbourne, as well as some US cities, but always with its own unique charm.   Toronto feels like being introduced to a mutual friend, and seeing immediately why you have friends in common.

After Munich, it feels funny to be in a city where I speak the language — and I could probably even understand most of the French, if it came to that — although I am self conscious about my accent, just like I used to be when I lived in Utah.  In a restaurant yesterday I had a dilemma ordering: I thought about ordering my second-choice, because my first would have involved having to tell the waitress “no tomato” and I didn’t want to have to say the word “to-mah-to”.

The city feels like it is proud to be Canadian — maybe I am just noticing these things because I’m seeing the city with fresh eyes, but I see the Maple Leaf flying almost everywhere I look.  Is it the same in London with the Union flag or the St George Cross?  I don’t think it is.  At the Royal Ontario Museum yesterday, I read about the war of 1812, and learned how the US war hawks at the time thought invading Canada would be a pushover — and were very wrong.  I get the feeling here that the Canadian identity is all the stronger for having such an influential neighbour to the south.

Toronto seems to be a city of dog-lovers (never have I seen a city with so many dogs, I swear), of skateboards (insert here, if I had one, a picture of all the people I saw yesterday skatebording while wearing white shirts and ties), and a city of coffee-drinkers.  Maybe that’s just the North American continent, but I’m sure that you don’t see so many people with coffees in London.

Unlike London, Toronto just doesn’t feel so crowded — crowded with buildings or with people. Although London only ranks #21 on the list of most populous cities in the world, it is way above any other European city, and Toronto by comparison comes in at #101.

Our next stop is the Niagara Falls area, let’s see how the adventure continues.

(more pictures from Toronto can be seen here)

Chasing the Dragons

Image credit: photo by Andy Wilkes

The Year of the Dragon is off to a strong start, with two training sessions now attended (and, most importantly, completed).

I was slightly disappointed that after my first training meeting with the illustrious Thames Dragons I then had to miss the next two dates.  Work commitments first meant that I would miss Tuesday night’s training, and then a wedding reception in Essex was to keep me away from Sunday morning.  I was disappointed and reluctant to miss them, and even tried to work out if it was possible to do all three.

If I missed dinner with my colleagues, could I go to training, finish by 9, then hot-foot it back to central London in time for the after-dinner drinks?  If I went to a wedding reception on Saturday night, could I get up extra-early on Sunday morning, just to drive back to north-east London for training?  It may have been physically possible to do these things, but it wasn’t practical: there would be plenty more opportunities to come.

Last night was the next opportunity to attend.  There was a temptation not to go when I was invited out for a drink by my colleagues, but I have committed on paper — or, at least, online — to the Year of the Dragon and I’m determined to see it through. If I start not bothering this early on, then the adventure is as good as over already.

Instead of a warm, sunny Sunday morning when I’d worn shorts and applied sunblock, last night although still warm was threatening rain from the start and I knew that evenings on the river would need insect repellent before it would need sun protection.  I arrived on the train in plenty of time and enjoyed the downhill walk to the river, and was glad to see that many dragon boaters were already there — including members of the Typhoon Dragon Boat Club in their team uniform — but also some reassuring members of my own club.

There were a few people that were clearly regular dragons that I hadn’t met before, along with a man who was returning for his own second session like me, and then a couple of completely new people.  You can tell a newbie when they come along, slightly hesitant, and ask “Is this dragon boat racing?” and then questions about how we would be racing, and if you fall in the water.  There is no actual racing, this is training. Later it was asked if anyone goes to races — I don’t know if the question meant did my team member personally race, did the team race, or if anyone actually races.

I can see clearly the areas I need to focus on for improvement.  While my first session was focused on keeping time with my other team members rather than paying attention to the shouted instructions or speed, this time I felt I should at least start considering myself part of the team and acting accordingly.  There are times when we start from what is called a standing start — you start with the paddles are buried in the water, then set off at a break-neck pace. Much like you would in a race.  The only trouble with this is being able to keep up — and if you can’t keep up with the speed, you can’t keep in time.  And the timing is the single most important thing.  The other things I need to improve include not taking the paddle past my hip (I think the key is reaching much farther forward) and the occasional tendency to splash half the boat with water.  I have no idea what goes wrong there.

Very soon, I am going to take out formal membership. And before long I am going to have to face that The Year of the Dragon is a very real adventure, and a challenge, even if it is entirely different from my previous adventures — and this means I am going to have to stop thinking of it as something I do for fun a couple of times a week, and actually start training for it.  There might not be a dog sled and a frozen Arctic tundra up ahead, but if I am going to compete within the year, I need to take it seriously and train.