Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Should we be worried?

Quite why a Viking longship should be making its way upriver today, I don't know - but the glinting sun made it clear they were wearing their helmets.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Remarkable how you don't realise just how much you needed new glasses until you put them on.

The bright sunlight helps, too. This ceanothus in a local garden has always put on a good display, but the intensity of colour was really striking yesterday.  Pity my phone camera wasn't quite up to capturing all the fine detail.

And this morning, the sun made the leaves of a quite humble pot-plant something rather more noticeable:

Monday, 24 March 2014

We danced in honey and sea salt sprinkled laxative

Street art in Shoreditch is as strange as ever (click to enlarge):

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Just as well I was feeling like a lie-down

Having signed up as a guinea-pig for a medical research project on preventing heart attacks, I was invited for a full session of tests yesterday. So the whole afternoon was spent lying down doing nothing much.

But I did get to see some of my arteries on an ultrasound monitor (the excitement soon wears off after that first "Well I never" moment). And then there was over an hour of enforced relaxation, holding my breath when told to, inside an MRI machine. Since one's enclosed in a plastic-lined pod (rather as one imagines some airlines might dream of using, to squeeze more passengers in), there's nothing to look at and nothing to listen to, Except, that is, for the ongoing cacophony of beeping, whirring, chugging, humming and blaring, interspersed with A Voice instructing "Breath in - breath out - stop" from time to time. The electric trains of my childhood tended to make similar noises, though not in surround-sound, and often providing similar opportunities for mind-wandering as they stopped for no apparent reason in the middle of nowhere.

Well, that's another of life's less risky adventures de-mystified. They'll want to do it again in a few months' time. Better take care of my heart in the meantime, I suppose.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

A windfall

A letter out of the blue from a rebranded version of a bank I haven't been near for over twenty years tells me I still have an account there, but since I haven't been using it I'll need to identify myself to them again. So off I trot with all the necessary documents to find out what it's all about and to make sure the account's properly closed this time, and emerge with my unexpected riches in my hand.

But the celebrations were muted. You don't get a lot of bunting and frolic for 76p.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Amsterdam round-up (2)

And here are two very different places of entertainment:

On the one hand, the 19th century's idea of solid worthiness for great music at the Concertgebouw (happily more relaxed and informal these days):

And on the other, the bordering-on-bonkers 1920s exuberance of the Tuschinski cinema, about which I've posted before :

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Finally getting round to tidying up photos from Amsterdam, I give you two scenes through café windows.

The first, though a rare burst of sunshine, lines up the expected trams and bikes. No surprises there - but what's happening in the other?

Was this for publicity for the café in question, or was this some local celebrity "seen enjoying a coffee in her favourite café" for some magazine profile, I wonder? You can make up your own stories.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

As you might guess from this photo, the Dutch quite like punning names for businesses, just as much as some people do in English.

And such is the facility with languages here that they'll have a go in English as well. I've noticed a chain of places selling fried potatoes called Chipsy King.

Sometimes it doesn't quite work, though. Decades ago, I couldn't work out why anyone thought this a good name for a business (apart from the curiosity factor),  and I still can't.

And I can't help thinking that even the most down-to-earth and unpretentious Dutch customer would expect a bit more from a beauty parlour on a fairly posh street than just the soap treatment:

Monday, 20 January 2014

Search me

No, I haven't the faintest idea why anyone would moor a fully-lit floating four-poster bed in a side canal.

Art, presumably.


Friday, 17 January 2014

In one of the streets near where I'm staying, there's a series of these mosaics replacing regular paving stones.

Some in the series are ordinary paving stones themselves, just of a different colour, but there's a definite regular sequence.

So, some guerilla paving artistry, or what?

Well, round the corner there are one or two more prosaic inserts in the paving: so perhaps these are, after all, no more than markers for the connection point between the house drains and the main sewers.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

In London we have urban foxes....

in Amsterdam, they have urban herons.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

I must be watching too much TV

After the seasonal advertising barrage, I can't help wondering - has any of the kitchen firms ever sold any of its cabinets at whatever price they knock such massive discounts off?

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Not just me, then

Interesting piece in the Guardian a few days ago comparing the TV schedules for Christmas week 1978 with the current fodder - interesting particularly that so much was crammed into just the two BBC channels (why he omits ITV, I don't know).

However, he's not really comparing like with like. Christmas week was special, after all, and he doesn't mention the deadening effect of repeats on the usual weekly schedules in those days. One thing about the multiplicity of digital channels, catch-up and PVR services these days is that the repeats are available elsewhere (if and when you choose to have them, and frequently I do, since there was so much I've missed in the past or forgotten about). I can remember that for every moan of "It's just repeats" there was one of "Why can't we have X back?".  And now we can.

The technological advance of digital TV would have happened anyway, Thatcherism or no, whether through some farcical period of "pirate" satellite broadcasting or in the way that it has developed. We might be sorry that public service may seem to have diminished in terms of the diversity and variety in any one channel's offerings: but the increase in channels has allowed the recent success of foreign language series, available almost all year round, rather than the occasional worthy movie.

And when I think of the times we used to joke "Just get them to hold it there for a minute" while we popped out to the loo or to make a cup of tea - well, with the pause button, now we can.

But I think he's right about the dumbing-down effect of endless copycat formats, property shows, and the apparent sheer terror among producers of just allowing someone to talk, uninterrupted, without people in the background acting out what they're talking about, irrelevant background music tinkling away to no great purpose, and so on (imagine if we couldn't have a real-life conversation without all that).

Friday, 13 December 2013

Yes, very amusing, but if you've made the effort to start trekking round Foyle's, do you really need to be told that books are a good idea?

(Time for a deep breath before resuming the shopping fray).

Meanwhile, in other news, I see Covent Garden and Seven Dials are - in the spirit of the times - thriftily re-using last year's decorations.

Trafalgar Square is of course, unchanging:

Monday, 9 December 2013

You'd better watch out....

Or at least, you should have done on Sunday morning because several thousand Santas (among them my niece) turned up in Victoria Park for a charity run.

There were Santas of all ages, sizes and even species, with sundry non-traditional variations on the costume, collecting for all kinds of charities - medical, social, environmental - and many of them had set up booths and banners for their groups.

After a not-too-serious set of warm-up exercises and posing for group photos, they all flooded towards the start point, and set out round the edge of the park.

The fastest of the serious athletes among them were back at the beginning of the 5km course within a quarter of an hour, and from then on a mixture of fast runners, joggers, people with dogs and pushchairs on a family amble came through. Clearly one child could not be parted from her scooter, but there was one little lad, who can't have more than about 7, who ran proudly home with his dad, grinning from here to Christmas. Somehow they all managed not to bump into each other as they either collected their medal with relief or ran straight on to make it up to 10km. Apart from a few late stragglers, it was all over in plenty of time for lunch.

And yes, children, even Santa needs the loo.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Grappling once again with the sinking feeling that comes from a new gizmo not working quite as expected, frustration isn't exactly lessened by the added gush in this helpdesk response:

Thanks for reaching out to us! This is a quick confirmation to let you know that we've received your mail, and will be working as quickly as possible to respond. If it takes us a bit longer to respond than you'd like, we apologize for any convenience. We’re working tirelessly behind the scenes to get back to you.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Things you see from the top of a bus (Part Umpty-Two)

Strolling along past the shopping mall entrance at Canary Wharf, a man with a fearsome-looking hawk on his arm.

A live one.

On reflection, I suppose the management may think this the answer to some sort of problem with birds roosting where they don't want them, or something of the sort. But no-one who passed them seemed to take a blind bit of notice.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Another Shoreditch art attack

Well, art-ish.

This building abuts the old railway bridge supports that house the tube trains that are now offices, and are regularly decorated by different artists.

Someone placed the insect on top years ago as some sort of comment on the banking crisis, but now that the building underneath appears to be out of business and all locked up, the painters have extended their empire.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Fun day at the museum

Perhaps not the best day  to visit the Museum of London's new exhibition of the restored Cheapside Hoard of jewellery: a teachers' strike, a couple of days after a TV documentary all about the exhibition, and apparently in the middle of half-term holidays for Dutch schools. The Museum was packed with people, and the school parties seemed busy and active, and a bit noisy: but that, after all, is the London the museum celebrates.

Inside the special exhibition gallery, despite timed entrance tickets, it could still feel crowded. Since the special beauty of so many of the pieces on display is in how small they are -  this scent bottle is barely an inch high, for example - you had to lean over the case with the borrowed magnifying glass,  blocking the view for anyone else behind. And it only took a couple of vocal and scampering toddlers to cause a fair amount of tutting.

But with a little patience, detachment and observation, it was possible to see the seemingly miraculous fine details, explore where the jewels come from, and how the pieces were made - together with the beliefs around different jewels and the illnesses they supposedly warded off, the iconography of the way they were worn, even have a sniff of the sort of scent the bottle might have contained. It was particularly powerful and pungent, but it probably would have had to be to cope with the stink of London - and Londoners - of those days.

And then, of course, there's the mystery of how this collection came to be lost or abandoned: since that must have happened any time after 1640 up to about 1680, you can take your pick of explanations - someone who went to fight in the Civil War and never came back, someone who went into exile when their side was out of favour (and never came back), a family that died in the Great Plague and left no heirs or records? We shall never know.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Some more photos of Hamburg

It isn't all about work and money: the merchants and citizens liked spending their money on the mind and soul as well.

The harbour panorama is dominated by the stern-looking tower of the Michaeliskirche, but inside, the church is far less austere and more baroquely curvaceous than you might imagine a Lutheran church to be - with a grand organ case in each of the three galleries. But a gallery window, high in the ceiling, looks distinctly like part of an eighteenth century ship: and the whole church is as broad in the beam and curvaceous as the freighters that brought the wealth to build it.

And as all good nineteenth century citizens did, they endowed art galleries, with the Kunsthalle's large collection containing some of the best-known Caspar David Friedrichs, which was a bonus for me. Not far away, the Kunst und Gewerbe Museum is a smaller version of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It has a large collection of musical instruments, including the weird and the wonderful; and on this occasion a special exhibition devoted to what constitutes bad taste - with an opportunity for members of the public to contribute their kitschy items (on condition that they take one of someone else's away with them).

The purely functional has its decorative element too. Not a few old office blocks still retain some art nouveau decorations and entrances; someone's used an escalator in the underground to create a scrolling thought for you to ponder.
And even the Elbtunnel, with its massive lifts for cars as well as pedestrians is lined with ceramic panels depicting its marine environment, including rats chasing round a workman's boot):