About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

10 July 2016

Top Gear

I think I have watched every episode of Top Gear since it was relaunched in 2002 - even the ones that features reviews of second hand cars, or the ineffectual Top Gear Stuntman and the lesser seen Top Gear Dog. I have watched many episodes of Top Gear before the relaunch - during repeats of BBC World in the late 1990s. Needless to say, I am a Top Gear fan. 

And yes, I did watch the most recent Top Gear series - and also agree with most reviews and other commentary on the general weakness of the series in comparison to the previous series. Series 23 retained the amazing production values in terms of cinematography and video production; but almost everything else was below par. 

But to be fair, Season 23 was actually 2 parts - the hour long TV show that tried to be like the previous 22 seasons, and the online Extra Gear. Extra gear was the car nerd special - the one that features car guys talking about cars and motoring - something similar to what the previous 22 seasons of Clarkson, Hammond and May. 

Top Gear's previous 21 seasons (leaving aside the first season of the reboot) was more than just a show about cars - it was really a show about 3 guys doing things with cars that other people may have considered; but didn't have the money, time or just creativity to pull off. Be it building hovercrafts, or racing across countries; or playing large scale games with caravans as pieces; it was entertainment that pushed boundaries of what cars could do.

Season 23 on the TV had plenty of car reviews - and on their own; they were quite good. But put them together as a show it seemed to fall flat. There was a race against a train - and the cars lost. There was a race with SUVs; but it wasn't that memorable. There was a race with reliable robins; that just didn't seem to have a point. 

There was some madness (both featured Matt LeBlanc - the Ariel Nomad and the Tour of London) but it just wasn't the same. Maybe next season will be better; I will wait one more season out. But if it is the same as this season; there are other better things to watch.

15 June 2016

Westminster Cathedral

I have walked past the cathedral a number of times in my visits to London, but Saturday was my first entry into the cathedral. While the architecture is impressive with regards to scale and th volume of the main hall; it's rather plain and ordinary.

12 June 2016

St Paul's Cathedral

Ever since I did the MIT course on the history of architecture (on edX); I have been interested in the buildings covered in the course. St. Paul's cathedral is the first such building since completing the course; and it is really great to spot some of the course elements. The late afternoon mass was about to start; so the cathedral was largely inaccessible. Inside, it is fairly ornate and far more interesting than Westminster Cathedral.

The Battle of Britain War Monument


It was my first visit to Manchester this past week; and given it was for business I didn't have much time to see the town in general. It's a bit of strange environment - a mix of old and new; that sometimes really work and other time feels out of step with the first world.

06 June 2016

How far we have come

I am flying to London tonight, and saw this poster in the British Airways lounge. My flight will take 11 hours, far shorter than the 5 days it used to take (which was off course shorter than taking a ship). I wonder if people complained of crying babies back then ....

31 May 2016

Uber Wars

I am an occasional user of Uber, although this past weekend, I ended up using it three times - probably more than the rest of the year combined. Uber has revolutionised personal transport; and its costs are not significantly higher than alternatives; especially when used in more off peak times.

I got talking to all three drivers this weekend - and one thing stood out - their stories with dealing with the traditional metered taxi competition. I have seen some reports on the news; but their stories are far more personal and eye-opening. Whether it is one driver, whose car was scratched by a metered taxi driver taking a plank to his car (he was the lucky one - the other Uber driver had a smashed windscreen) or the other driver who covers his phone and doesn't openly display the operating permit to avoid detection - there is clearly far more opposition than I initially believed.

What is interesting however, is that I would not really consider using metered taxis in most situations (in contrast to the Uber). I have taken a few - especially from the Gautrain station when travelling - but in most cases they are a pain. Metered taxis are difficult to get hold off; their quality of cars are usually inferior; and their rates are usually higher. If I consider my three trips this weekend, I would only consider doing one of them using a metered taxi - but even then, it would have been unlikely. I wonder how many Uber users would use metered taxis instead.

Clearly metered taxis are feeling the pinch - but I am surprised by their reaction in most cases. The vast majority of Uber drivers I have talked to are employed drivers - the cars are owned by someone else (sometimes a family member) and the drivers are employed to drive and take a cut as salary (around 20 - 25% seems to be the norm). And Uber is not that different to metered taxis - except that they regulate fares. Surely, it would make more sense for the metered taxi owners to join the Uber brigade instead of trying to compete on a largely ineffective service offering. Heck - there is nothing that is truly stopping them to run both modes - in fact some Uber drivers seem to do this also (one driver mentioned dropping of a customer in Magaliesberg for the weekend and then fetching them at a pre-determined time). 

Overall, the anger of metered taxis, in South Africa and elsewhere, is just a sign of what to expect from other disruptive economic models. From AirBnB to self driving cars; existing business models will feel the pinch and may make their anger felt.

29 May 2016

Movie: Macbeth

Last year's film production of Macbeth, has been on the South African circuit for a while - but M and I kept postponing for various reasons. I have seen a fair number of productions - on stage, filmed versions of stage productions and movies - and in my opinion; this is one of the best, if not the best, version of Shakespeare's classic. 

In terms of movie versions - the production and set design; coupled with the amazingly haunting soundtrack has not been matched. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard give a terrific performance; as do the rest of the cast; but there are subtle changes in the screenplay (no deviations in the storyline or dialogue beyond some shortening) that really brings it to life. The brutal opening battle scene (where the witches seem to be keeping watch), the addition of the fourth (non speaking) young witch, the scene of Banqo's demise and Fleance's getaway - and even the ending with Fleance and Macbeth's sword - they all bring a new dimension to a very well known play.

25 May 2016

Children's Monologues

UK based charity, Dramatic Need, has been showcasing a theatrical production of a set of monologues originally written by children in South African township Rammulotsi in the Free State. These theatrical productions have featured some of the leading actors and directors, such as last year's production featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kit Harington and Nicole Kidman, while the production itself was directed by Danny Boyle.

For the first time last Friday, the show was presented in South Africa, at the Market Theatre, featuring a great cast of South African actors and some of the children assisted by the charity. 

Based on reviews, it seems that the stories presented in each production are not the same but each production seems to have a mix of sad and happy stories - although even some of the happiest have an element of sadness. For me, the story of the colourful shoes was by far the most powerful - a combination of hope, perseverance and the brutal reality of violence in South Africa; followed closely by the story of rape (in which the dance performance that accompanied the narration was as accomplished as the harrowing story narration). 

Children's Monologues is a great showcase for South African theatre - it's a pity that these performances are only once off.