A scene from Starbucks in England

A friend told me this anecdote the other day, and it’s plausibly brilliant.

SCENE: a Starbucks somewhere in England, soon after the coffee chain started asking for people’s names when they order coffee. It’s fair to say this innovation has not sat well with the English. A line of people are waiting to order coffee.

CUSTOMER: A latte, please

SERVER: Certainly. Can I have your name, please?

SERVER holds market pen over cardboard cup. CUSTOMER squirms uncomfortably. There is tension in the queue, broken only by a voice from its rear.

UNKNOWN CUSTOMER: Don’t tell him, Pike.


A lovely day on the Estuary

Anyone who’s read my books will know I have a bad case of the Thames. It’s a very particular strain of the disease, too. You can keep your picturesque stretches alongside the Houses of Parliament, or your genteel meanderings around Kew and Chiswick. No, for me, the real river is wide and grey and ugly and starts at Tower Bridge. It winds up and down and east and west before opening out into the immense skies of the Estuary. Give me Canvey Island over Chelsea, Sheerness over Sheen, any day of the week.

So last week it was an enormous pleasure to board a ship and travel down from Tower Bridge and out into the North Sea and back, via Gravesend, Southend and Sheerness; to sail over the great naval mustering point at the Nore, to see the masts of the SS Richard Montgomery peaking above the waves, and, most of all, to witness the same sunset skies heading back into town as must have once enraptured Turner.

Here’s some pictures from the journey – the first of which I claim no credit for. But I did want to show you the beautiful vessel on which we sailed, and I didn’t get a decent picture myself.

Click on any of the pics to open a nice big gallery viewer.


The man who loves books but cannot read

A beautiful story in the New York Times, that reads like the opening of  a gorgeous Indian novel:

On the banks of picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, sits the only library in the neighborhood, run by a man who loves books but cannot read.

In a single-story wooden house, carefully maintained shelves are filled with around 600 books in several languages, the prize possessions of Muhammad Latif Oata, a 44-year-old handicrafts seller who dropped out of school at age 10 to work.

Over two decades, Mr. Latif, a Kashmir native, has accumulated all these books through exchanges and donations from people who visited his shop, first in Goa, then in Karnataka and now here in Dal Lake, a popular tourist destination. His collection includes books written by authors from many countries, like the United States, Britain, Sweden, Italy and Korea, reflecting the donors’ nationalities.

Since the vast majority of those who visit the library are tourists, he has named it the Travelers Library. Anyone can take a book; all Mr. Latif asks is that borrowers describe the stories contained in the pages of the books they return. Many visitors, who are Indians from other states and foreigners who come to see Dal Lake, leave behind their own books to add to his collection.

via Illiterate, but in Love With Books – NYTimes.com. Thanks to Kate Mayfield on Twitter for this.

Amazing things, people

This morning, I sent a whiny email to my local councillor about parking in my London street. Sometimes it’s, like, really busy and I can’t find a spot right outside my house and have to walk, like, a whole hundred metres.

And then I saw this amazing video, and stopped thinking about such trivial things.