Off to Berlin – Again

The Berlin tourist board have invented a new concept for the gays. Pink Pillow. I shall be their guest at the end of this month for a long weekend in Europe’s cultural capital. I’ll be reporting extensively on the podcast homoLAB which is available for free from itunes, once I return.

What’s interesting about the itinerary they have put together is that they seem to be focusing on attractions in the west of the city. Berghain isn’t on the agenda, instead we will be going out in the evening in Schoneberg and staying in Tiergarten instead of Friedrichshagen.

Half the fun of going to Berlin is imagining what life would have been like behind the iron curtain, whilst admiring the brutalist communist architecture. I’ve done that before, so it will be fun to spend some time in the west. The bohemian appeal of Berlin survived the cold war in the west, where people took advantage of cheap tax free living, and being exempted from national service for living in a free enclave behind the Iron Curtain.

Berlin is easy enough to get to from London by train. It takes about 10 hours from London by day with changes in Brussels and Koln (Cologne), or you can go overnight via Paris. Book each leg separately for the best fares. The journey through the Ardennes and through Koln and Essen is the prettiest bit of the daytime journey, and you can have a tour of the Cathedral in Koln whilst your wait to change trains.


Tonight’s Dinner

Some people go to the gym so they can get big muscles, I go to the gym so I can eat what I like. So today I made a really quick, simple but wonderful dinner. Griddled Lemon and Thyme Chicken Supreme, with crushed Red Potatoes, Sprouting Broccoli and Coleslaw.

Heat the griddle, boil the kettle and prepare your chicken. I bought a free range organic Chicken Supreme from my local independent supermarker, Greensmith’s on Lower Marsh in Waterloo. It cost £3.13 from the GingerPig instore butcher. (Organic chicken breast can cost up to £6.00 in Tesco, they don’t sell Supreme’s so you are actually getting less for almost double the price. I love meat. However, I always think Supermarket meat is pretty awful. It’s tasteless and bland. Properly reared, prepared and butchered meat, is a completely different product). Marinate the chicken in olive oil, add some garlic and loads of thyme, season. While this is marinating I put the potatoes on.

The chicken took about 20 minutes to griddle. About 10 minutes on each side. Once the potatoes were done I lightly crushed them with a fork and added lashings of butter, salt and pepper. The Sprouting Broccoli only needs to simmer for about 3-4minutes, I added a squeeze of fresh lemon and a dash of olive oil. Greensmiths let you pick your own, it’s not prewrapped so it only cost 55p, (the big 4 supermarkets make most of their money by selling you pre-packaged veg and yo normally end up having to buy loads more than you actually need).
Greensmiths do a raelly nice prepared coleslaw, so I cheated and bought that. There’s doesn’t contain a label, which means it’s freshly prepared with natural ingredients. I already had some potatoes, but all the other stuff I bought came to £5.23. I never manage to spend just £5.23 in Tesco. That’s why I always stop at Greensmith’s on my way home from the gym. I know all the staff. I love my local independent shops.

The whole thing took 25 minutes to prepare. I didn’t take a pic as I wasn’t going to blog about it, but it was so, so nice I just had to write about it.

London to Copenhagen – Borgen Forbrydelsen

I’ve always wanted to go to Scandinavia, and with my current obsession with Danish drama, I’ve booked a weekend in Copenhagen for the end of February.

Getting to Copenhagen by train from London.

You need to get the 16.04 Eurostar to Brussels Midi / Zuid (Belgium’s French and Dutch speakers can’t even agree on which part of town it’s in, so it can hardly be surprising that they took over 500 days to form a Government). Both the French and the Belgians have been slightly embarressed by London’s refurbed St Pancras station. So if you travel to Gare du Nord in Paris or Brussels, you’ll notice there’s a bit of construction work going on. Belgium is one of the world’s greatest gastro countries. However, don’t expect to find any evidence of this at Brussels station. I’d recommend Quick Burger (French take on McDonalds). However, you probably won’t have time. Once you get off the Eurostar (Platforms 1- 3) take the escalators to the main station concorse, have a quick snap with TinTin and you’ll have 23 minutes to find where the 19.28 Thalys to Koln and Essen is leaving from (normally Platforms 4-8). The Thalys, like the Eurostar is basically a French TGV train converted to travel outside of France. Unlike the Eurostar it has recently been refurbished, it’s a lovely burgundy colour outside and the seats are far more comfortable than the now very dated and shabby Eurostars. will sell you return tickets London to Cologne/Koln for between £89 – £178 (standard class).

You’ll arrive in Cologne at 21.15 so you’ll have an hour before the City Night Line train to Copenhagen. Take the time to check out the famous Cathedral at night. It’s literally right outside the station. The best thing about train travel though, is that you can have stop overs, so why not get the 8.57am from London, you’ll get to Cologne just after 3pm and have over 5 hours to explore the city (store your bags in left luggage at the station).

The City Night Line train leaves at 22.28 and arrives in Copenhagen at 10.07 the next morning. You have a choice of accommodation onboard. A return seat will cost from £68, you can have a couchette (with up to 5 other people sharing from £102 return. Couchettes are like playing roulette, you could get to share with 5 hot, interesting friendly German/Danish muscle bears or maybe a family complete with screaming kids, or maybe a group of Evangelical Christians from Omaha, or perhaps a drug dealer from Latvia, could be fun, may be hell) so if you are travelling with a partner, you could treat yourself to a 2 berth sleeper cabin with shower and breakfast from £226 return. It’s best to book your tickets with (don’t worry it’s all in English) as they won’t charge you a booking fee like Rail Europe will. German sleeper trains are clean and efficient and very German, some of them (though not the Copenhagen ones) are even double decker!

I’m a bit skint at the moment so I booked a state subsidised flight, Easyjet from Gatwick for £49 return.

NB TOP TIP If you do book the train, make sure you open both the eurostar and deutcshe bahn sites at the same time, to check availability and prices on both trains.

BBC Local Radio Cuts – A Bridge Too Far

According to the Guardian today Lord Patten (Chairman of the BBC Trust) is to ask the BBC DG Mark Thompson to find £15m to mitigate the cuts to BBC Local Radio. The proposals for networked afternoon programming look dead.

This is hardly surprising. At the Radio Conference in Salford last year I was telling two Editors of local stations that the proposals would be a bridge too far. Simply put, most listeners to BBC Local Radio are over 55 years old, most people who vote in elections are over 55 years old, and if you are the MP for Blandville North, it’s likely the only station you’ll ever get to go on regularly would be BBC Blandshire. When you add in local councillors, then it was obvious that Mark had bitten off more than he could chew.

@steveackerman MD of Somethin Else tweeted earlier today that this was ‘driven by MP’s rather than the needs of the audience.’ I disagree and here’s why.

In the age of globalisation and global mass communications ‘Local’ is more important than ever. The only sector of the UK job market that is rising at the moment is the Self Employment sector. Self employment increased by 101,000 in Oct / Nov / Dec 2011. There are now over 4million self employed in the UK today (the highest since records began in 1992). (ONS 18.1.12) Figures out today showed that the UK economy shrunk by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2011. The life support system keeping the UK economy alive at the moment is small business.

One man who had the foresight to see the importance of small enterprise and community empowerment way back at the fag end of Thatcher’s Government was the then Secretary of State for the Environment – a certain Chris Patten. The work of the UK Government at the time led to the Rio Conference of 1992. At this conference all the world’s major powers signed up to a pledge to reduce the inequalities created by globalisation and to reduce carbon emmissions and help the environment. The deal agreed in Rio is today known as ‘Agenda 21’. It can be summed up in four words. ‘Think Global, Act Local’. Anyone that has studied Environmental Science since 1993 will, like me, have been bored to tears by the end of their course by this amazing agreement. Likewise for anyone that studied Geography, Planning, Development, Regeneration et al. To realise how far reaching Agenda 21 is, rather than doing a wiki search, search your Local Authority name and Agenda 21. In Lambeth where I live, there are more pages that come up, than there are for waste (which, incidently Agenda 21 covers). Agenda 21 forces / empowers *(*delete as appropriate) Local Authorities to consider all development in sustainable terms.

Lambeth Town Hall sits over the road from Brixton’s Market Arcades. In the 90’s Brixton’s Arcade’s were the place you’d go to for street dealers selling everything from weed to crack cocaine, publically. Market traders had a nice sideline for illegal bushmeat and muggers hung out at every corner (of which there are many). It closed after dark. Not that they were ever busy.

Today Brixton’s Arcade Market is a foodies paradise. Empowered by Transition Brixton’s Agenda 21 team, a proposal to redevelop the market into luxury flats was thrown out and small local business start ups and self employed traders have made it the destination for South Londoners, not only on Saturdays and Sundays but in the evenings throughout the week. Franco Manca’s Pizza is prasied as the best pizza joint in London. He’s now expanded and opened shops in Chiswick and Westfield Stratford. If you want a coffee at Federation Coffee, expect to wait up to 30 minutes on a Saturday (you’ll queue out the door, way out the door – the Starbucks on the high street will be empty though). Need I mention Little Miss CupCake, she’s a local celebrity now! With the Brixton Pound (yes that’s also from Transition Brixton Agenda 21) more money spent is staying in the community. A community which boasts London’s only remaining independent department store (and the centre of the Brixton Pound exchange) Morley’s. Brixton is booming.

One show, more than any others highlighted the fight to save Brixton Market. The Robert Elms Show on BBC London. It’s the Afternoon Show. Would the issues surrounding Brixton have been releveant to the people of Whitstable or Chelmsford, of course not.

Mary Portas the Government’s high street Tsar, is leading the charge to regenerate our high streets across the country. The Brixton experience is the blueprint. In the age of mass global communications, Local is going to be the driving force out of this recession. One man had the foresight to understand the importance of thinking Global and Acting Local way back in 1989. He still understands it today. Stand Up Lord Patten.

Surfing The Rails

I decided that it was time to start a blog. Twitter’s 140 character limit is too constraining for serious discussion. I’m guessing at this stage it will focus on the things that interest me. My work in radio, my interest in music, culture, politics and also my love of traveling around Europe by train. Join me on this epic journey.