Monday, 13 October 2014

According to that well-known source of infallible guidance, the internet*, it's pretty hard to tell I'm not forty years younger than it says in my passport.

If only the internet could persuade my knees and hips of the fact.....

*You can take the test here:

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Stroll through Covent Garden market and past the stall advertising magic tricks, and you might spot a potential magic trick out on the square beyond.

The portico seems to have been eaten through, leaving the upper part floating in the air.

But on closer inspection, it's not part of the main building, but a separate and (as it turns out) temporary installation. I rather think the picture on the right caught the tail-end end of a TV interview with the artist.

It seems to be a big hit with the passers-by; and for those wondering how they did it, the unobstrusive market cart at one end might suggest a solution:

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Shiny, shiny

There's a particular sort of magical thinking that used to catch me in posh stationery shops: somehow that pen, that notebook, and those smart file folders would make my handwriting perfect, my thoughts positively lapidary and so tidily organised. Fat chance, of course, but something similar was hovering around while I was spending months gazing at seemingly endless variations of shiny new equipment,  my desktop being at least ten years old (in computer years, somewhere near village idiot age, I imagine) and Microsoft having decided to let the operating system decline into decrepitude without support (as I imagine may yet come to us all).

So finally I plumped for a laptop that can do everything the desktop does, only faster and with a much sharper screen display, and a convertible thingy that can replace my travelling netbook and be just a tablet as well. With touchscreens on both of them, the tappy-swipey generation gained yet another member.

It took a couple of weeks for the magical thinking to subside, and work out a routine for doing the same jobs as before, but much more quickly and smoothly (already, scanning my old photos has progressed to the 1990s, whoop-de-doo). For all the complaints people have made about Windows 8.1, I do find the extra options offered by the touchscreen rather useful - it makes scrolling through longer pages much more controllable than using the trackpad, for me anyway.

But superstition, not to mention experience, tells me that the more "intuitive" and "helpful" computers get, the more potential for trouble there is.  I wouldn't be surprised if those kindly people at AmaGoogleFacePal come out with some combination of eye-tracking and brainwave-measuring technology to place an order and charge your credit card for whatever seems to attract your attention on a web-page (Apple will have their own version, no doubt called iWant), without your having to twitch an eyelid. And by then we'll have become so inert we'll no longer have the physical capacity to send back all the things they get wrong.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

September means the Great River Race

Conveniently timed for my ride up to the supermarket this morning, the crews were beginning to launch and line up for the start of the race, all the way from Greenwich to Richmond under their own power (by oar or paddle, I think - no sign of a pedalo class yet).

As ever, the launch site looked like a colourful confusion of boats, flags and costumes whose practicability for 20-odd miles of effort looked rather doubtful.

And what better excuse justification for lunch at the Grapes than to get a grandstand view of the procession of Santas, Smurfs, sailor costumes, Dutch Marines - and someone catching a crab?

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Papers, please!

Never mind what we tend to think about the way the US organises (or not) its medical care, something there seems to encourage a different sort of patient empowerment.

On one US-based forum I dip in and out of, a discussion on whether certain sorts of treatment should be hospital-only included someone's claim that:

I've never gone into an OR for a procedure (major or minor) unless I have everyone who will be working on me in the pre-op room for proper introductions, review again of complete details of procedure and documents of their backgrounds.

Imagine trying that here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A wet blanket writes...

In all the hooha about the Ice Bucket Challenge and all that, it doesn't seem to have been much remarked on that demonstrative charity/philanthropy is nothing new.

From the days of mediaeval warlords and robber barons endowing churches and colleges to Victorian industrialists establishing schools and hospitals, posterity has rarely seen lights hidden under bushels, or left hands not waving self-congratulation at what the right hand's been doing (and all for charity): though in the past, the torments of eternal damnation might have been a bit more powerful an influence than today's Twitter-trolling and tabloid shame.

Even the humble flag day works on the same principle, whether it be as decorous as Queen Alexandra's Rose Day or as solemn as remembrance poppies.

Though I doubt if these Alexandra rose-sellers would have been amused by the Ice Bucket idea.

Let alone her:

"It's Bookaaaaaayyy!"

Sunday, 24 August 2014

I think -

I hope - they mean guest beers.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

It was only a matter of time

...before drones became a hobby for the general public. And, as is the way of the internet, a site and a "community" have sprung up for people who use them to take (it has to be said) some pretty stunning photos.

But how much longer will it take, I wonder, before the forest of raised hands waving cameras and iPads in front of a view is supplemented by a cloud of camera-bearing drones buzzing around overhead? Or someone's so busy taking a selfie of themselves with a drone overhead that they step out in front of the traffic? (Granted, that would be a prime candidate for a Darwin Award, but I still tend to think capital punishment a bit harsh, even for terminal vanity).

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Throwback Thursday

Today's throwback is only a couple of years, to a showery day in the Olympic Park.

This was the view across the main entrance and concourse area as the Paralympics came towards their end.

And now the same spot in the re-opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park includes this cheerful children's playground:

The Aquatic Centre, now without its wings of extra spectator seating, allows light to flood in under the floating ceiling, and was getting plenty of general public use, as was the Velodrome and the cycle circuits around the outside.

Which was only to be expected, since this was the day the Tour de France was passing by, and the park was full of people out to watch.

The excitement has been leading to some debate about whether this would encourage more people to get on to two wheels. Leaving aside the question whether the superhuman challenge of the Tour has much relation to you and me and the people next door seeing a bike as just another means of transport about our daily business, the one thing one notices, in the best part of four hours waiting for the cavalcade to pass, is that it's mainly a parade of lots of motor vehicles around a relatively small number of cyclists passing in a flash:

Monday, 30 June 2014

In the land of the kilted pine

This year's trip to Austria seems to have encouraged a focus on the distinctly odd, like this interesting garden decoration, somewhat out of line with the general conventions of the area (as indeed was the same owner's idea for recycling old kitchen appliances and utensils).

Of course, the scenery remains stunning, the wild flowers beautiful, old buildings picturesque, baroque churches extravagantly fanciful and so on.

But why decorate a church pulpit with a halo-ed cow?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Munich again

Surprising what you can find when you follow your nose. Looking for quite a different building, and negotating a way through a mass of scaffolding and builders' equipment outside, led from a hot day outside into an extravaganza of cool grey plasterwork in the Theatinerkirche. No need for the black-and-white function on the camera, this is what it looks like in colour.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Words not quite failing me

Fulmination is rarely the best use of emotional energy, and that's not the sort of blogger I'd want to be, usually. But what else can one do when it seems our Prime Minister's unnamed spokesman thinks it's purely a matter for consumers whether or not the products of the theft of labour, of health and even of life itself (otherwise known as slavery) should be on sale.

Is he proposing that the police and courts should likewise apply that principle to the sale of stolen goods? And how does he propose that the Home and Education Secretaries should work together to include it in the much-touted forthcoming drive on "British values"?

Throwback Thursday

Last Thursday, it was Paris, this Thursday it's the Tirol via Munich I'm off to, so here's a photo from a good fifteen or so years ago of surfers catching the waves of mountain water as they burst through some constricting conduits, slap in the centre of Munich:

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Jardins Albert Kahn

A splendidly shady retreat on a baking hot day, the gardens surround the house of Albert Kahn, who devoted the wealth derived from his banking career to a variety of philanthropic causes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among many other projects he employed a number of photographic teams to go around the world documenting the lives of many different peoples in the hope of engendering internationalist spirit; many of the photos are in startlingly good early colour techniques.

His gardens were developed in much the same spirit, drawing inspiration from Japan, from his native Alsace, traditional French and English styles and so on, not all at their best all the time, but still presenting plenty that is striking and beautiful:

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Monday, 9 June 2014

Sunday morning in the park

Everywhere has its own oddities (we've got plenty, after all). This weekend's example of the Parisian version was to find, on arrival at La Villette, not so much the aerobics class/demonstration taking place on one of the hottest mornings of the year, but that it was doing so to the sound of sundry well-known Christmas songs and hymns, complete with a singalonga chorus, all to the same bouncy party beat. Up and down, side to side they went, with some particularly aggressive whoops and air-punching as they got to "peace on earth and mercy mild".

And all watched over impassively by the sculpture in the fountain, apparently of a woman having an enema.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Throwback Thursday

Just to mark where I am this weekend, here's one of the first photos I ever took of Paris, in 1963.

Arrival here these days is so much easier with Eurostar: an unremarkable two hours on a train (with no ferries or customs checks) and then just walking out of the station like a commuter.  Today, though, there was a reception committee: a guard of honour, flowers and banks of photographers. Not, as it turned out, for any old hoi polloi, but for the Queen, due to arrive for the D-Day anniversary events. Whether she had been on our train and was just waiting for all of us to be out of the way before making her way down the (rather narrow) platform to the big reception, or whether everyone was good and early for a later arrival, I didn't stay to find out.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Shoreditch strikes again

Six months ago, this building (which used to be a [cough] massage parlour, and was then left locked up for quite some time) suddenly appeared in this guise.

To judge from the quintessentially arty Shoreditch type unlocking the door the other day, it's now a studio; and now it looks like this:

Friday, 30 May 2014

Thowback Friday

Self-imposed blogging deadlines having given way to a long-buried recognition that some spring-cleaning really needed to be done, these old photos are surfacing today. In 1987, I went to Chicago, where these two American icons were handily placed side-by-side in the Art Institute.

Not far away is the equally well-known Sunday Afternoon on the Ile de la Grande Jatte by Seurat.

At that time, Sondheim's Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George, inspired by the painting, was a big hit and general talking-point.

Which may explain why this hommage had appeared in a nearby lakeside resort, in somewhat less exalted circumstances (click to enlarge):

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Throwback Thursday

This is Cradle Mountain in Tasmania. Staying with an outdoors-y sort of a person, as I did in 2000, means being taken on trips I wouldn't have imagined for myself - in this case, not only a long walk around the lake from left to right and across the open ground beyond, but also up to the top of the right-hand peak.

Yes, that's right - right up there.

It's not as alarming as it looks - at the back of the peak, the way up is clearly marked - not so much a path as a route for scrambling over the boulders, but none the less, no special equipment required beyond boots with a good grip, and some sense of balance.

Even for someone with no great head for heights, like me, it felt perfectly safe - though with one final moment where the route narrows between two very steep declines to either side.

Even there, however, there are some boulders to use as a screen from the view immediately down, and to snatch a photo of the more distant panorama.

From the top, the views are spectacular:

Time, before starting the clamber down (somehow harder than the climb up), to look back at where we came from.

And for a touch of cute (and a rare occasion where the wildlife comes out to present itself for photos in the daylight), here's a visitor that stopped to investigate our rucksacks in the hut where we rested our (by now, jelly) legs on the way back. If memory serves, it's a spotted quoll: