The go-to site for what makes life worth living in and around Petersfield, Hampshire, and some other stuff too. For flaneurs, bon vivants, indeed boulevardiers of every complexion - why go anywhere else?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Hawkley Inn, Hawkley

5 miles west and north of Petersfield. Everything you want a country pub to be: walking boots, wellies, horses and bikes by the door, great beer and cider, rib-sticking pub grub, fire, moose, big garden. All this and power showers too, if you're minded to sleep it off in some very smart accommodation. Seven beers on tap - they change every week - and decent wine too. Always plenty of local ales, (the Hipster has personally never had a bad one and would walk several country miles any day for Alton's finest, the fff Moondance). Music at weekends, beer fest every year. With a big garden out back and a covered verandah in front, an excellent pub in any weather, crowded at weekends, however, when food service can be on the slow side - get there early or late would be our advice if waiting a while bothers you - and the number of untethered children may occasionally test your tolerance (though this seems less of an issue since new space opened up in the pub at the end of 2006). A great place, just about hanging on to its greatness through a period of transition (the Hawkley has seen off two landlords and any number of barstaff since the long reign of the legendarily grumpy and still much-missed Al). Get there: Follow signs for Hawkley from West Liss (Hawkley Road runs up the side of the Spread Eagle). Pococks Lane, Hawkley. Liss 01730 827205, more at

Snow blind... 'Transsiberian'

Pretty much your standard location thriller, but still, two hours decent entertainment from a strong cast in a skilfully exploited setting is not to be sniffed at. Atmospherically capturing the claustrophobia of the train (in a way that at times recalls Konchalovsky's great 'Runaway Train' and the gnawing anxiety of Americans out of their depth in a culture that's foreign in every way. For me, Woody Harrelson takes the irritating American rube shtick a bit too far - I can't have been the only one who cheered when he got left behind in Irkutsk and booed when he showed up alive further down the line - but Emily Mortimer is luminescently great and Ben Kingsley's practised badman routine is pretty failsafe these days. Shame that some unlikely twists and turns in the plot let it down a little - it's hard to avoid being distracted by 'wait a minute..' moments - but otherwise a solid if undemanding piece of work that, for all its horrors, still leaves you thinking 'I fancy a bit of that...'. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

You could even grow to love it... the Asus eee pc 901

I've been an early adopter and user of new technology for getting on for 20 years - it kind of goes with the day job, which, not to overcomplicate matters or lose you in the very first sentence, is somewhat concerned with IT and telecoms. Notwithstanding - or perhaps because of - this familiarity with the territory, I've never felt a great deal of affection for tech and least of all for the primary tool of every techworker's trade, the laptop PC. Mostly heavy, slow, ugly, often narky... the laptop has always been for me the utilitarian tool of the working shill, not an accessory suited to the debonair hipster-about-town whose preferences naturally tend to the small, perfectly-formed and discreet. Admittedly, them Apples look pretty cool, but most are still big and anyway, like most non-media, low-grade technocrats, I've always had Microsoft PCs thrust on me.

My ambivalent-at-best attitude to the laptop may have turned a corner however, because exciting new things have happened in their design over the last year.
I got one of these here little devices for Christmas - I'd coveted one for months since my pal Marchant had got one and had finally decided the purchase was justified (or as justified as a tech purchase can ever be) - and I have to tell you it's been my boon companion ever since. What is it? Technically it's the snappily named Asus eee PC 901 (I know, will they never learn?), but what it really is is a baby laptop with a bright 9 inch screen, a usable keyboard, all that Windows stuff, a good battery and a lovely piano-black finish. To cut to the chase for anyone who's in a hurry, it's a terrific little machine and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants a good personal PC that can almost be carried in a pocket, and is prepared to work with relatively little onboard storage (stick with me as this needn't necessarily be a problem).  

the upside, of which there is plenty:  
  • looks great, nice finish, build feels very solid and classy despite being so light, keyboard and buttons very professional - everyone who has seen it wants one.
  • screen brightness and usability - visibility - are good 
  • battery life seems to be at least five hours - the best I've had from any laptop or notebook. Some people claim to get much more.
  • general responsiveness is excellent - it just feels fast, and I'm told a cheap and easy memory upgrade makes it faster still.  
  • wi-fi access seems particularly good too - I can go from a cold start to online and wasting time in less than a minute. Compared to the conventional Dell laptop with Vista I bought for Chez Hipster a year ago, (which, no matter what I do to it, runs like a sick donkey with two broken legs) this is fantastic.  
the downside, which honestly, need hardly concern you:  
  • everything is good but there's no getting away from the fact that it is also small. It's a fabulous bit of kit for working on trains, planes, the back of taxis, especially for quick internet access and emails and so on. But you wouldn't want to be squinting at it all day and you wouldn't really want to write a novel on this keyboard, not unless you have the dearest little pixey fingers. However: plug it into a keyboard (I'm writing this on a nice basic Logitech keyboard which cost me nearly £10) and a monitor and you won't know the difference. In fact, from this point of view it's better than a standard notebook as it takes up so little deskspace.  
  • there's not a lot of storage for documents and programs and so forth. However, you can add more as easily as inserting an SD card, just like the one you maybe have on your camera or phone (I immediately added 16gb at a cost of around £20), and you can get into the habit of using external storage for stuff you're not using every day - I have mine plugged into to a big external hard drive type of thing when I'm sitting at my desk. Personally, though, I find that more and more of the stuff I do is web-based anyway, from Google Mail and Docs to Flickr and Blogger, so the problem is starting to disappear anyway.  
In conclusion, if you're prepared to work around its natural limitations, this is a great, truly portable and even stylish personal notebook. I never thought I'd say this about a laptop, but I'm damned close to feeling some affection for it!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Could do better: 'Shine A Light' (The Rolling Stones)

There's a handful of good bits in this (if you will) rockumentary, over which 'All Down The Line' from 1971's 'Exile on Main Street' stands head and shoulders; it's taut, driven and, apart from Jagger's peculiar vocal stylings, of which more anon, pretty fabulous, and reminds you why the Stones were was once considered the planet's greatest rock and roll band - and, unfortunately, when they were last considered genuinely vital, in both senses of the word. In addition, there's a great cameo from Buddy Guy, who stalks on stage and immediately looks like the real deal, shouting, singing and playing up a storm, reminding people what the blues sound like and making Sir Mick seem suddenly lightweight (though in fairness he does play some pretty decent harmonica on the track in question). There's Keith singing 'You've Got The Silver' with some feeling, backed up by Ronnie's better-than-efficient slide. Interesting that it's one of the few times in the film when the Stones look and sound like a band (rather than journeyman backup to a barely-tolerated frontman).

Unfortunately there's an awful lot of bad stuff. To name but some: Jagger's endless prancing and queening and shaking his scrawny tush about (OK, you're 65, Mick, we get it) Keith still pretending to be able to smoke a fag while playing (because it's, like, cool) and looking (I can't take the credit for this, unfortunately) like something that's been pulled out of Brian May and Anita Dobson's plughole. Ronnie still looking like the hired hand after 30 years or whatever it is, Charlie looking like he's all ready to smack Mick one (again) at any time.

Most of the playing is average-to-deplorable. 'Faraway Eyes' in particular is an almost unlistenable combination of Jagger's 'singing' (for which, on this song at least, 'mannered' is too small a word) and Ronnie's pedal steel (which he plays, or rather tortures, like a man who'd only been introduced to the instrument in the dressing room). Lots of really duff songs ('She Was Hot', I ask you....). Pointless cameos by Jack White and Christina Aguilera. Gushing encounters with Bill Clinton. And Hillary. And Hillary's Mum. Very rock and roll, I'm sure. Pointless and randomly introduced archive clips, most of which are tediously familiar. Fatuous 'what's the setlist' drama at the start to give Marty 'di Bargi' Scorsese something to emote over.

To say it's a curate's egg would be a kindness. Why is nearly all Rolling Stones output like this - not to be rude, but so tawdry and half-arsed, so redolent of the faint odour of 'can't really be bothered'? Too many egos involved (and that of the knight of the realm in particular) perhaps? I guess at their advanced ages, a really great music film like 'Stop Making Sense' or 'Sign o' the Times' would be too much to hope for, but given their longevity, and the affection with which both they and their really rather amazing back catalogue are still regarded, not to mention the resources available to them here, why couldn't this have been the Stones 'The Last Waltz'? It surely ain't.

Avoid (again), and try instead to track down a copy of '25x5' which will remind you that there was once a really great band here, and one which could still, even at this late stage, do so much better.