Tag Archives: Hitchin

Rhythms of the World

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Rhythmical Vibes

The Rhythms of the World is an annual music festival held in Hitchin, our new home town. Traditionally it has been free-for-all and held in the streets of the town centre. This year is was a walled-off experience held at a venue on the edge of the town centre and with a £5 entrance fee.

In a nutshell Rhythms is a huge selection of varied live music (and other performance art) across 6 stages and 11 hours for only £5. That’s our second 5 pound bargain in two weeks!

Beyond the music there was some delicious and inexpensive food around (but also a lot of crap, no surprise.) For the alcoholically inclined there were many bar stalls, but we didn’t bother with them. We did have a few halves of excellent Somerset scrumpy however, available for a reasonable £3 a pint. My favourite food for the day was provided by Spinach & Agushi, a Ghanaian food stall (apparently features on some BBC show.) They were so good I went back for more! A local lot providing some cajun food was also a good treat, how on Earth could I resist Goat Curry! I spoke with the guy here, who runs the Caribbean stall in Hitchin market, and he said the numbers weren’t working out too well for him. “Lucky to break even.” A phrase I’ve heard a few times now.

That aside, the music is the reason for the whole shebang. Man was it good to listen to live music again, it has been far too long. Mostly I collected my musical joy from ska/reggae groups. My list of highlights includes:

  • Kid iD … skankin’ ska (listen to Hassle in the Hessles and Up and Down)
  • No.1 Station … reggae getting back to ska (listen to Airstrip One, Bush War and maybe Friday Night)
  • En Fuego (on fire) … man, those horns!
  • Some old long haired dude who sang about being a rabbit, an LSD victim maybe. Alas, I know not who he was. “Being a rabbit!”

[[Update: It was “The Otters!” He’s strutting his crazy stuff down the road in a couple of weeks, ho ho! “Don’t call me bunny face.” “Being a rabbit, it’s getting to be a habit!” The crazy dude’s song is actually on the site.]]

I must observe that none of the above sound as good recorded as they did live. Kid iD suffers the most, the energy just isn’t there. 🙁 As an aside, lately I’m finding that the normalisation that myspace provides to the music comminity’s collective online presence is really very effective and efficient.

The venue, “The Priory“, seemed to work out rather well for the event. There was plenty of room around, with transit between the stages being clear (maybe a bad thing for the event financially?) We attended on the Saturday, complete with the rain, which seems to be entrenched for the summer here. There were some rather muddy areas around the grounds, but the grass did hold up rather well. If Sunday has been wet too it would have been an utter quagmire, as it turned out the lucky bastards who chose to go on Sunday got nothing but sun. Bah, no Glastonbury-style love for them.

Political Vibes

All on not well in our local World of the Rhythms.

Several locals we know boycotted the event, feeling that their traditional local festival had been turned into a money making scheme. It did feel a bit like this, fed the viewpoints of those who’ve lived with Rhythms over the years. This year you pay to get in and you also pay twice as much (only £2) to get a programme. The clincher is that once you’re in you can’t get out, unless you want to pay the entry fee over again (assuming their headcount quota isn’t exhausted for the day.) You could only take in one bottle of wine per head, or four cans of beer (remember, you’re likely to spend hours at the event.) So it is easy to feel like they’re trying to wring all the money they can from you. This was certainly a strong local current of thought.

Obviously, Kat and I decided to go regardless. And, fact is, it was great fun. We can’t compare and contrast to previous years, so can only weigh it up for how it was in its new incarnation. And that’s what I’ve done above. I can’t say I felt my pocket being rung dry, except by the exorbitant £2.50 charge for using the only on-site cash machine (my fault for forgetting to get a wad of cash before entering.) We heard that the beer was expensive, but didn’t drink beer ourselves.

That aside, there’s a definite impression that the new format “hurt” businesses in the town. Several had prepped up for whatever the traditional high-density of people was, and business didn’t go so well. I heard that it was a good weekend for some of the town-centre pubs, but nowhere near as good as previous years. (A couple of the pubs had licensed stands at the event so probably did well out of the weekend, but this was just a select few. We heard from one local pub owner that the “open” tender process for licenses was not well advertised.)

There is also a strong anti-festival element in the town. According to some people at the festival the council tried to shut it down, and all of the restrictions and issues this year were a result of that. They had to have it in an enclosed area, step up security, and follow strict licensing rules (thus the no-readmission policy, this, we are told, was council/police-imposed.) We overheard a group of locals in the Sunrunner lamenting the fact that they hadn’t managed to shut it down this year, that the town was full of “undesirables,” and crime for the weekend rife.

I have to say, the town didn’t seem full of undesirables and criminals to us. Sure, I expect there were more than usual of of both, whatever an “undesirable” is. You get that though, and live with it, it’s better to have a bit of interest than live in a sealed box. Surely? I hope the haters are in a minority, though it would certainly be one of those “loud minorities.” Frankly, the situation with large groups of late-night drunken mid-teens seemed little worse than most weekends. The existing local problems would appear to be worse than any briefly imported ones.

I have heard it said that “Rhythms of the World was the world’s biggest free world music festival… now it isn’t.”

Novatel Ovation MC930D and Linux (Ubuntu)

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[Quick answer: try eject /dev/sr1 (that’s probably what it’ll be if you have a CDROM, for me it was /dev/sr0, to confirm insert the dongle and check the last few lines of dmesg) as step zero for the Novatel Linux instructions.]

Gah, I got sick of having to use WinXP to get my mobile broadband. Last week I signed up with O2 and got a Novatel Ovation MC930D as part of my contract. Initially I had fairly low expectations for this being easy to get working in Linux. Then I found a page on the Novatel site explaining how to set up the device in linux. w00t! Oh, ah, not so fast…

I got to step 15 and didn’t get anything back from the modem query. To get this far I had chosen the USB product id of 0x5010, since that is what I saw when I plugged in the dongle. The page actually says I should use 0x4400 for my device, but I figured it was some sort of mistake since all I saw was 0x5010! There was more to it than that as well, I also had to remove the usbstorage driver first because it picked up the dongle as a storage device and created /dev/sr0 for it. No great surprise, it does have 64MB of flash available.

In the end further web searching found that the dongle is a “switch mode” USB device. I.e. if you poke it in the right ways it turns into different devices, changing its skin like a chameleon. This is a pretty slick set up for Windows installs, it simply looks like a memory stick. The trick is that it has an autorun.inf and when inserted takes you through the Novatel/O2 driver/software installation. Once the driver is installed the device is switched, and is automatically switched by the driver on future insertions.

There’s a tool for switching various USB devices, including my Novatel MC930D. It involves compiling and crap though, I do enough compiling as it is, ick.

Lucky me! There’s a note that mentions that the Novatel actually switches on a storage/SCSI ‘eject’ command. How about we try eject /dev/sr0? Gotya!

So, in the end I can recommend the official Novaltel Linux instructions linked to above. However, first insert this new “step 0”.

0. Execute: sudo eject /dev/sr0

When you do this the 1410:5010 USB device will vanish and in its place a 1410:4400 device will appear. From this point onwards the official Novatel instructions can be followed.

Note that I’m using an Ubuntu ‘gutsy’ system here, so YMMV.

If you’re wondering about other “fill in the blanks” for the Novatel setup page then here’s an answer-sheet for using the Novatel MC930D (maybe other devices too) with O2 (UK mobile provider):

  • Phone Number: *99***1#
  • Initialization String 2: AT+CGDCONT=1,"IP","mobile.o2.co.uk"
  • Username: o2web
  • Password: password

What’s really insane is that the connection seems to be far more stable under Linux. On Windows it gives about 15 minutes of connectivity punctuated with 5 minutes of “not reachable.” I just got more than 3 hours out of the last Linux connection.

Underground, overground, dongling free,
The dongles of Dingledon Common are we

Now I can dongle in the middle of Wimbledon Common at 7.6Mbps with my “free” OS. Wombling free al’right.

Hitchin, Stevenage, & Cambourne

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Our goal on Friday was to explore a couple of towns on the train line between Cambridge and London. This we did, then we also had a look at a business park cum housing estate (or vice-versa?) outside Cambridge.

I failed to mention in my previous notes that I’ve forgotten the camera. We tossed around the idea of driving down to Ricky to pick it up but decided not to bother, it’d probably have been a 1.5 hour round trip from Stevenage. No photos! Quite liberating actually.


Hitchin, our first destination, won us over quickly. Old village architecture, a permanent market area, and an interesting collection of shops in the town centre. The market was quiet and had a collection of pretty dodgy stuff in the guise of “antiques”, however there were also decent looking fruit, vegetables, and meat. Given that it was Good Friday I guess, and hope, that it may have been quieter than usual. To bolster my hope far fewer stalls were occupied than not. But it may be possible that the market is past its heyday, which would be sad.

On walking the winding streets of Hitchin what stood out was the classic white-walled, black-beamed facades. These were even more remarkable since in many cases one end of the first floor was a foot or more higher than the other! I have to imagine that for modern use the core of the buildings has been rebuilt and only the extremely characterful shell of the original building remains. I’d not be surprised to find red brick out the back.

The town centre boasts all the usual High Street brands, ho hum. There is also a brilliant deli with an excellent selection of cheese and the butcher looked good (in addition to two butchers in the market area.) There’s also, surprisingly and amazingly, the best catering store I’ve ever seen in the UK!

The physical features of the town centre are a large square, used part-time for parking and otherwise for reasons unknown. The market area is elsewhere, down a passage from the main square. And on one side is the imposing edifice of the church, seeming much patched together and patched up over the centuries. The church is buffered by the usual graveyard an pleasant grassed grounds. Running to the east of the church is the tamed river Hiz, this bisects the town and runs under the market. I expect this river is actually a remnant, transformed to a channel (or drainage ditch) and now mostly subterranean. The name, Hiz, is pronounced Hitch – thus the name of the town. I’d expect it is better phrased as “pronounced Hitch in antiquity” since the modern phonetic pronunciation must surely be more common now.

We’ll probably pop along to Hitchin once more on the way home, to test out the accessibility by train.


The drive into Stevenage from Hitchin was short and we found ourselves on the main street of the Stevenage “Old Town” in less than 10 minutes. The street was OK but kind of devoid of life, it also seemed to not have any produce stores at all. We wandered the street but weren’t impressed.

We got back into the car and followed the signs to the Stevenage “town centre.” What a travesty of “new town” design, what a hideous beast they’ve built. This is a cold, dank, shell of a town center. A veritable zombie, no doubt actually consuming the brains of any unfortunate enough to inhabit the area.

We did note that Stevenage seems to have excellent provision for cycling. There is, what appears to be, a dedicated road network for cyclists (and walkers.) There’s also a large central parkland that is quite pleasant. However nothing we saw in Stevenage made up for the soulless horror of the so-called “town centre.”

It would seem that our interest in Stevenage is probably now damaged beyond repair.


Heading back to Cambridge we chose a route via an area named Cambourne, our interest in this being derived from the fact that it is supposed to be a hive of high-tech businesses. The actual business park in Cambourne seems small, but there is clearly room for it to expand, and massively (roads leading off into fields, and the like.) The buildings are all shiny, glassy, and new looking. The landscaping is elegant and involves a lot of water, always a points-winner in my book. In typical English “you are being watched” style there are CCTV cameras all over the place too, quite horrible in my opinion.

An interesting note is that along with the business park it seems a whole suburb has been built where I was expecting only business buildings. There seems to be far too great a capacity to serve just the small collection of commercial buildings in Cambourne so I wonder what area the population is supposed to serve. As far as the “town” goes, what we saw didn’t impress us, the place looked bleak. No character, no cafés, just a supermarket, a “fish and chicken” shop, an uninspiring pub, and a flock of real-estate vultures.

Cambourne is about a 20 minute drive from central Cambridge, and it took us 40 minutes to get up there from Hitchin. So the other thing about it is that it isn’t even really close to anywhere. The main road connections other than Cambridge seem to be St. Neot, and Royston, but both seem rather small so probably have little use for a population “overflow” town. There are bus services to Cambridge it seems, but there’s no train line in the area. Most interesting, for a high-tech business park, is that it must take 1.5 hours or more to get there from London. Maybe close access to Cambridge is enough though, I really don’t know.

The only think I can say for certain about Cambourne is that I wouldn’t want to live there… older, characterful, English towns are more my style. It does seem a pleasant working environment however.

I wrote the above paragraphs yesterday. I have two amusing notes to now add over lunch on Saturday. Last night we popped into an Indian place for dinner and by chance we overheard the two couples sitting next to us briefly discussing Cambourne. One of the men was a flight instructor and the other his pupil, the instructor was discussing the “mushrooming” of Cambourne with a note of certain horror in his voice. There was a clear agreement that the place seemed rather strange and difficult to understand, the only positive point voiced was “they have a Morrisons.” Morrisons is one of the smaller supermarket chains, not all that exciting I think.

The second note is that in one of this morning’s Cambridge newspapers there was an article on how these new housing estates are depressive. Cambourne was dubbed “Glumbourne” and the news was that they had to set up a specialist psych unit there to deal with the higher than average rates of depression. The theory, apparently a controversial one, is that these “new towns” are devoid of social structures and networks that many people are dependant on as an integral part of their happiness. In my opinion it could also be a case of the place looking terrible, being isolated, and having no cultural interest.