Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Parisian politics - afterthought

As the referendum debate in this country (I'll be out of the country again, so I'll be voting early, though not often) becomes more and more chaotic farcical,  I'm reminded that there was a European Day outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris.

 In part some display panels about what sort of projects in France EU money has been spent on, in part a fair with stands for all sorts of EU institutions and pressure groups to hand out the usual flyers and goodies, in part some entertainment and some serious talks (that looked less enticing):

And someone was selling a book of jokes based on national stereotypes, the cover handily showing you who makes fun of whom. Not surprisingly, most people seem to tell jokes about their neighbours (though somehow the Danes and Portuguese get overlooked). But why (apparently) do Hungarians tell jokes about Scots?

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Parisian politics

I wouldn't have expected the London local elections to feature very highly on the news agenda in France, but it certainly appeared in the TV news headlines, and in at least one fairly high profile studio discussion programme (at about the time of day when British channels show soaps, magazine shows and house-and-garden makeovers). For over an hour, a solemn panel of experts and journalists (among them two British correspondents who more than held up their own in French) chewed over the significance of the son of an immigrant Muslim bus-driver being elected. The fact of his also being a party loyalist with a fairly solid, if uninspiring, record as a dependably safe pair of hands as an MP and government minister rather seemed to take second place.

If anything, the French experts rather played down their own country's record of relative diversity - both the present mayor of Paris and the Prime Minister were born elsewhere (albeit only next door in Spain, but all the same....). An interesting example of priorities came when asked if something similar could happen in France: the French experts all looked a bit doubtful and someone said something like "Well, there've been a couple of Muslim ministers", as though that didn't really count.

Meanwhile, I passed by the Place de la République one afternoon. Traditionally the place for protest meetings, it's recently been taken over by overnight encampments, mainly protesting about controversial current proposals for changes to the labour laws.

In the daytime, however, there weren't many people around, some viewing the palimpsest of memorials for the terrorist attacks, of protest slogans and banners, and a small group of people protesting that "Public space is not for sale" (relating to what in particular, I didn't stay to find out). Otherwise, there were a few stalls set up, some to promote particular causes, but one advertising boxing classes: though the demonstrative presence of riot police parked up in the surrounding streets might suggest a more political motive for that too.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Parisian miscellany

What better way to take advantage of the quiet streets of the Parisian public holiday last weekend (not to mention the fantastic weather) than a leisurely bike ride downsome unfamiliar side streets, noting en route how Rue de Paradis is only slightly more attractive than Paradise Row in London, that the Society for the Future of the Proletariat once promised a golden sheaf, and to wonder why and how the Porte St Denis was supposed to glorify Louis XIV by a headless warrior.

Eventually the road led to the newly-revealed revamp of Les Halles. There's been a long and not very happy record of attempts to develop something to replace the old cast-iron market halls. A not much loved shopping centre and public space on top of the underground railway interchange has had a new treatment of the previously rather poky, uninspiring entrance and surface levels, after several grand plans and false starts.

A view right through from one side to the other  has been opened up, under a canopy in a sort of metallised buttery yellow. Perhaps it's supposed to make you think the sun's shining even if it isn't, but if so, the designer's bets are hedged by the patterned glass that casts a sort of iridescent shadow that suggests it's raining, when it isn't. Looking down on the sweep of stairs and escalators into the complex below, I couldn't help thinking of Jacques Tati's comedies of a dystopian futuristic technology.

Much of the shopping centre is being renovated, and looks like any other, so the sunshine called me further on towards the river, where the curse of the lovelocks has moved on to another pedestrian bridge, and eventually to the little garden round the Tour St Jacques. Here the sun had called out more people than you might imagine could fit in, but also - and more importantly - the flowers:

Friday, 6 May 2016

I intend to, thank you

This poster greeted me in the metro, one of a series of bilingual puns to advertise a language school. All very amusing.

Not too sure about the accent the students will end up with, though - if a Brit is any position to comment on such matters....

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Vote! Vote! Vote!

30 pages of manifestoes
and instructions!
Never mind the sideshow across the Atlantic, today is election day in London and other local authority areas across England (and for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern  Ireland Assemblies).

As it happens, I'm in Paris today, so I've aready voted by post. And it's a bit (but only a little bit) more complicated than the usual cross in a box against one candidate.

In London, we get one ballot paper for the Mayor (cross in the box for first choice and second choice), another for a London Assembly member for the constituency (there are 14), and a third paper for a top-up vote for a party list for the remaining 11 Assembly members, to go some way towards to making the overall result more proportional (both of those just the one traditional cross in the box) - and each of the papers a different colour.

On top of that, with a postal ballot, the envelope they go back in has an additional section to confirm a matching security detail (to prove I am the person who asked for the vote), then the whole lot goes into yet another envelope. And off it all went in due time.

Besides the usual major parties, far right extremists and single-issue campaigners, the ballot papers had some interesting new names and descriptions. For the Mayor's post we are also offered the opportunity to vote for the One Love Party, which is nowhere near as exciting as it sounds, being a play on the name of their candidate (and, I suspect, only member), a Mr Love, who is apparently a film producer, claims to be the Emperor of Jammu Kashmir and proposes something called techno-progressivism to solve all the world's problems. Oh, and flat pack skyscrapers and six new bridges for East London. There's also a Polish prince who is a property developer, so claims to have the answer to London's housing problems: when he's not challenging other party leaders to a duel.

The top-up ballot paper for the Assembly includes the House Party, which is also not as entertaining as it sounds. It looks like another one-man band interested in the housing issue (let's face it, the situation's bordering on the insane and someone needs to get a grip on it), and keen to uphold and expand the principle of social housing. I don't doubt I'd agree with most of what he says about it online, but although he's apparently a journalist, it's hardly got a snappy headline or a summary of what he'd want to do about it all.  Indeed, it's a prime candidate for an internet abbreviation I've only recently come across - TL:DR ("too long: didn't read").

Saturday, 23 April 2016

"How heavy do I journey..."

That was the greeting from a cycle delivery courier on London Bridge: but this wasn't an unexpected outburst of cultural zeal, it was an actor reciting Shakespeare's sonnet 50 at yet another stop on the Globe's annual "sonnet walk" to mark the great man's anniversary - in this case, the 400th of his death.

At first, somewhat disconcertingly, it appeared we were all being sent off with just a printed guide to find our own way in fairly persistent rain, starting in this case at St Leonard's Shoreditch. Near this church the first theatre in London was built, and in it some of the great actors  in Shakespeare's day chose to be buried (and, as it happens, one set of my great-grandparents were married).

But we got the point as, passing along what is now a workaday side street with nothing of great interest in it, other than that the original theatre had once stood there, what looked like a ranting street person treated us to "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame...", and so it went on. Just as Shakespeare brought to life no end of ordinary people in his plays alongside the kings and nobles, so apparently ten ordinary people of the present day appeared up side alleys and in hidden churchyards to deliver sonnets, some very familiar, and some not so much. We had an antic fool, a lovesick young man, a street campaigner for refugees, what seemed like a voluble tourist having a row on a mobile phone but turned to deliver "When in disgrace in fortune and mens' eyes....", and a city worker in Leadenhall Market competing with the Friday afterwork drinkers and a rock band to give us, of all things, "When to the sessions of sweet silent thought....."

And we didn't get lost: assorted stewards seemed to pop up at points of potential confusion, and since we had all been issued with red roses, it was easy to spot the group. And at the end, we were invited to use the roses to decorate the ornamental gates at the Globe:

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

How quickly one forgets. Months and months of first focussing, and then trying not to, on a persistent sciatica, both of which made it a first consideration most of the time - and now that all those stretching exercises and tentative experiments on exercise bikes and in the swimming pool have finally worked, it's as though it never was. Well, almost.

But at last there's a bit of mental energy and willpower to spare, so it's back to digitising old photos (nearly up to, ooh, about twenty years ago). Here are some from Scotland in 1997:

From the top of Ben Nevis, looking down Loch Linnhe to the sea:

The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney:

Somewhere near Durness, along the northern coast of Scotland:

And the obligatory hairy coos:

Friday, 19 February 2016

Someone at our local arty bar must have been a bit bored...

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Hip Hip

..but not yet quite hooray.

For some time I've been annoyed by sciatica, and for longer than if I'd been a bit more systematic about professional advice. Now that I have, the NHS has ruled out all the potential slippery slopes into really nasty infirmities (in less than a month, three GP consultations, blood tests, X-rays and a check with a vascular specialist - perhaps London may be a little better provided for than elsewhere in the country), and the various exercises and so forth are starting to loosen things up a little. At last the slightly more comic (though perhaps no less annoying) side of it comes to the fore. It's long been a commonplace that once you reach about 50, it is the law that you can't bend down and pick something up without a satisfying "oof!". But that's nothing compared with the variety of flinching, wincing, huffing, puffing, moaning, groaning, gurning and even occasional yelping that comes with a sore hip and an inflamed sciatic nerve: and what's even odder, is that all this is wasted on the desert air, since it's hardly the done thing in company. A pained smile, in moderation, is about as far as one can reasonably go. Even when the man in the paper shop asks if it's the shrapnel that's giving me trouble.

But at least I'm no longer walking as though I'm about to serve two soups (though it may be a while before I'm ready to gallop).

Thursday, 11 February 2016

If winter comes...

As the poet says, can spring be far behind? Except that winter didn't come this year, and spring seems to be a bit ahead of itself. This local display cheered the eye about this time in 2014; but we've already had this year's - before Christmas.

And Limehouse churchyard's spring show has been in full swing for a week already:

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Saturday, 14 November 2015

If it's not too soon to say so:

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Secrets of movie-making

If you want a steady shot of a horse-bus rattling along, get a shiny car to pull it along.

Another day, another camera crew using the Old Royal Naval College as a backdrop for a period piece. It's turned up as the backdrop to films and TV programmes set at the time of the Great Fire of London, in Jane Austen dramas, and now in something evidently late nineteenth-century, complete with a hansom cab, assorted other carriages, a rather comedy-looking bobby and a rather rickety-looking tricycle.

Note, by the way, how the extras have to sit in the bus waiting for the shot as lunchtime rolls around, but the crew behind the camera tuck in. At least the hansom cab driver got something to eat while waiting.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Higher and higher

My long-awaited new mattress arrived this morning. Remains to be seen if or how it will help assorted aches and pains, but one thing is clear: it's a good 6cm deeper than its predecessor (which was also deeper than what I moved here with).

I suppose I could say my bed has been getting nearer to heaven, but these days that is less promising than it sounds.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The joys of old movies on daytime TV

Knowing wife insisting to her musician husband's latest infatuated conquest that she's telling the truth about the last lady friend in the series:

"My dear, no-one could possibly invent Myfanwy's vibrato!"

Monday, 12 October 2015

Sciatica is a pain, and a tedious one, but even though I need to keep trying movement of some sort to try to loosen things up, I don't think Prancercise* would be quite the thing (and certainly not in those leggings):

*No honestly, it appears to be entirely genuine. Well, meant to be.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Language notes

According to the statutory planning application notice attached to our riverboat pier, we are to have, not just a signpost or an information board, or a map, but..

an "interchange totem".

Watch out for war-dancing commuters.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Another day....

...another river spectacle. September is the month for Thames-based events. We've already had the start of the round-the-world-race, a tall ships festival, and a visit from another tall ship from Colombia to mark their national day. Today, a flotilla procession was to mark the Queen's record reign.

There hasn't been the most successful record of flotilla events, over the years. There was a spectacular number of boats for the Diamond Jubilee, but it poured with rain; there was a decidedly underwhelming procession to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII.

 And, in the event, this was a very small procession: the replica royal rowing barge donated for the Diamond Jubilee, the Port of London Authority's Havengore and a modern and a historic fire vessel making a bit more of a splash.

But they all had to swerve to give pride of place to the refuse barges muscling through on their way down-river.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Bring out your dead!

Not what the tourists and office workers in Minories would have expected to hear this morning, but to mark the opening of a weekend of events commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Plague of London, a small troupe of actors was re-enacting one of the dismal processions you could have seen in London that hot and fetid summer.

There were a couple of labourers to draw the cadaver-filled cart, a couple of doctors in sinister masks and capes, a couple of healthy-looking near-dead to hand out flyers, and for added colour a tavern "hostess" and Daniel Defoe (somewhat a-historically, since he would actually have been a toddler at the time, and created his Journal of the Plague Year from other sources much later).

As it set off, the traffic nearly drowned out the performance, but in the quieter parts of the street it came into its own, even if the participants were almost outnumbered by photographers and cameramen. By now, though, it was taking on some features of music-hall repartee with the people in the office windows or walking unsuspectingly out of a sandwich shop - "Got any dead, missis? Shall I take this one off yer hands now to save time?" (gesturing to the lady's unfortunate husband) and "Look at the pustules on that one!".

Which does make you wonder, especially with all the horrors in the world just at the moment, how long does it take for "horrible histories" to become something one can laugh at or with?

The procession broke up when it reached St Botolph's church, with its exhibition on the event, and even the corpse got to give an interview for the TV.