Wednesday, 27 May 2015

This sceptical-looking copper was keeping an eye on the spectators at the State Opening of Parliament this morning. After all the excitements of the General Election, this was business as usual. Hard to imagine that, if you believed the opinion polls at the time, there was every prospect of alternative claimants to government each having a go at getting a Queen's Speech approved in Parliament (presumably the Palace would have expected them to find a way to sort that out without having to go through two such ceremonies in quick succession, but who knows?).

But in the event, the voters decided the issue, and the ceremonial proceeded as usual, from the sergeant-major using his pacing -stick to mark out the exact intervals between the Guardsmen along the route, the band strategically placed not only for salutes, but also to entertain the waiting spectators, squadrons of highly-polished cavalry, coaches and cars of assorted dignitaries and officials (and the Crown Jewels) getting to Westminster in time to make sure everything was in place for the main event, to the brief glimpse of herself trundling past, just at the right moment for the Australian tourist beside me to snatch the perfect photo she never expected to get.

Not to mention the street-sweeping machines bringing up the rear, so that you'd never know even a single horse had been along those streets.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

De-cluttering seems to be addictive.

After all that redundant paper and old letters (six large binbags full of shreddings), this morning I managed to get on to the bike and round to the recycling centre a palimpsest of technologies - a 40-year-old handheld vacuum cleaner (well, it might have come in handy, just in case), a 30-year-old telephone answering machine, over 60 computer diskettes, half a dozen rewritable CDs  - and a small bag of old clothes just to pad it all out.

My old computers are still waiting to be disposed of securely, there are a couple of shelves in the storage cupboard to be gone through, and an old cabinet that's so battered it isn't really worth attempting to do much with (and I have no idea what I shoved inside it).

And that'll leave plenty of room for the next lot (you never know when it might be useful........)

Monday, 4 May 2015

Sunshine at the Bank

No, not a weather forecast, either literally or financially, but a person.

To be specific, someone I must have been at school with, and referred to in a letter from a mutual friend found in a box full of old letters starting over 40 years ago, uncovered in the process of de-cluttering (finally!) my storage cupboard.

It was an unsettling experience to realise I had actually forgotten some of the people writing to me, not to mention many of the people they referred to; and even more so, as I re-read them, to think of all the could haves, would haves, should haves of different points in the past.

Less unsettling, perhaps, to marvel at how we actually managed to make arrangements to meet and to keep in touch in the days when you either needed to find a landline or phone box, or to send a letter or a post-card; and if, as they would, something went wrong, another exchange of cards or letters would be winging their way backwards and forwards.

There was no great loss in consigning so much trivia to the shredder; but some names and faces had re-emerged from the mists of memory - including, eventually, someone not exactly blessed with the sprightliest sense of humour, who eventually went into something financial.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Madeira: Flowers and gardens

Up in the hills behind Funchal (so high there's a cable car up to it) is the village of Monte, which hosts not only the last resting-place of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor (still, its seems, attracting Hungarian devotees) and the start of Madeira's much-touted street toboggan rides (no, we didn't), but also several gardens.

 One of them is the Palace Tropical Garden, which sets into a deep ravine a largely Oriental-style of garden, hence this cheery chap.

There's also a large collection of other tropical plants and traditional ornamental tiling with a focus on Portugese links to Asia.

But the ordinary domestic gardens can show some interesting displays, not to mention the wild plants, which can verge on the weird and wonderful:

Friday, 1 May 2015

Madeira: a cliff walk

We had booked to go for a walk on a mountain top; the weather was fine in town and on the coast, but as the van climbed up and up, the cloud became thicker and colder. At the top, the bushes were coated in ice and visibility didn't extend more than a few yards beyond the gift shop. So the guide's Plan B was a coastal walk, and in less than half an hour, we were in full sun and temperatures like an English summer.

And there was no shortage of compensatory vistas:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Madeira: Levadas and cascades

Levadas are the irrigation channels built to take mountain springs and streams down into the supply system for Madeira's farms and people.

They provide a network of routes in and around the moutain slopes to various scenic viewpoints, so walking along them is a popular attraction for visitors.

Not all of them have a handy beaten path running alongside, like this one, so group walks with a guide are a useful way for the visitor to find their way safely.

To get to and from the roads, there may be steps up and own, of varying heights and surfaces (sometimes sharp-edged cobbles, sometimes flat stone that gets slippy in the mists).

The path may be wide and well-gravelled,  or require you to inch your way along the narrow stone sill beside the channel, with nothing but a wire fence to protect you from the drop, or to hop or clamber over curiously shaped roots across the path.

In a dripping mist, the atmosphere can be almost other-worldly, which is only increased when you're told those arching branches and huge roots are actually a variety of heather.

Everywhere lichens coat the trees and bushes, and occasionally a view of distant ravines and mountains will open out. But it's wiser to keep a close eye on the next piece of tricky ground to cover, until at last you reach the destination, in this case a particular set of cascades.

And if looking at falling water begins to pall, the local population has learnt this is a good place to come and pose for photographs, in the hope of some treats:

Friday, 24 April 2015

Places, common or otherwise

Time was, people kept commonplace books, to collect quotations and extracts that struck them as memorable, for whatever reason: a discipline that eluded me. Instead, the round of bits and bobs I've been posting here have come to seem commonplace in the other sense, and repetitive: which is why (Ms. Scarlett please note, and thank you for your kind enquiry) there hasn't been much activity here lately.

Still and all,if you don't mind fixing a polite smile on and suppressing any urge to yawn, here are some holiday snaps. Back in February, a friend was offered the free use of someone else's timeshare in Madeira, and asked me along. It would have been churlish to refuse....................

Madeira's an island of mountains, ravines and rocky inlets, out in the Atlantic between the Canaries and the Azores, with narrow coastal strips that don't allow much, if any, space for bucket-and-spade beaches.

Funchal, the capital, like many a Mediterranean island town, has its harbour/marina/cruise terminal and its its traditional fishing village core. Along the shoreline, cliffs of modern hotels and apartments spread out to either side to maximise the opportunities for seaviews and exposure to sunshine. But the solid mass of suburban development is punctuated with occasional gaps: the terraced plots of bananas that cover so many of the steep slopes behind retain a foothold right down to busy boulevards and shopping centres that, otherwise, might be anywhere.

What pulls the tourists is in and around its centre, with its market, fancy mosaic pavingflamboyant cathedral interior, museums and grand town hall, arty displays and other distractions and entertainments for the visitor:

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The swans have nested on Millwall Dock once more and have another brood of five eggs on the way.

In the best spirit of make do and mend, they were busy building up their nest with any old debris they could find floating round about.

In the process, they were spiritedly trying to persuade themselves the telephone cables serving the houseboats were simply very long and whippy twigs:


Friday, 3 April 2015

When the cupboard doors need an elastic band to keep them (nearly) closed), that ought to be a sign that some decluttering is in order.

Some day, soon......

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

All change

The big blue cock is gone from Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, welcome the skeletal horse. It makes an interesting contrast to the equestrian statue beyond of George IV (who was famously much more corpulent in real life than his statue would suggest). The inclusion of a Stock Exchange ticker might suggest a neat inversion: a dead horse flogging something or other. Or not.

(Another sign of changing times today - the plumbers came two hours early).

Click to enlarge:

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Coming to you live...

.. electrically speaking, that is to say. The days seem to be punctuated with minor shocks as I touch the hifi, the sink or go anywhere near the light switches. There's a sinking feeling that it may be something to do with the spiffy - and none too cheap - new loose covers on my sofa.

It didn't occur to me that I might be buying generating capacity, but there we are.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Spring comes to Limehouse

It's official: the flowers are out in St Anne's churchyard

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

For the compliments of the season:

They have lots of mistletoe at Hampton Court:


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Pensée du jour

Seen in Covent Garden:

Sunday, 14 December 2014

That time of year again (oh yes it is!)

If there are three Princess Leias outside a pub in Greenwich, apparently engaged in what must be called a bun-off, there's got to be a simple explanation.

There is. For some reason, the Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich incorporated some Stars Wars elements: but what that reason is, well, who knows? Or cares.

It seems that panto horse races are quite a thing. They attract attention and get people into a jolly mood to let their cash be extracted for good causes.

This particular race requires a canter round a short urban course with several refreshment stops (what the rest of us would call a pub crawl).

Preceded by a somewhat lacklustre procession (hardly a parade) of Star Wars stormtroopers and characters, it involved TV's most annoyingly flamboyant racing commentator (to maintain some vestigial association with the sport of kings, though each stage of the race turned out to be a little short for serious analysis of form).

While some spectators joined in the spirit of the occasion, most preferred to look on with a glass in their hands, though to judge by the sound of rattling tins, plenty of money was being collected.

 There was some serious reportage going on as well: and if the reporter's getting a tip from the horse's mouth, then it's only fair and balanced to give the other end a say as well.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

We may be well on the downward slope to winter, but the low light and long shadows of early sunsets offer some consolation for a cold walk in the park.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The last poppies

The last of 888,426 poppies
Passing by the Tower the other day, it was possible to see the last of the work to remove the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which caused such a stir in the run-up to Remembrance Day. The part of the moat on the riverward side was still being cleared.

Volunteers were hard at work, even in the rain, some lifting and separating the ceramic flowers, each one representing a Commonwealth soldier who died in the First World War.
Others were hard at work hammering the metal stems to separate them from the central button, no doubt for recycling.

From the way the rush to see it in the last few days was reported, anyone would think no-one knew the installation had been growing since August. The cynic in me couldn't help wondering if the solemn announcement by the government that there would after all be arrangements for people to see something of it even after its scheduled end wasn't just a re-packaging of the fact that it would just take this long to complete the removal. 

Here's what it looked like some months ago, well on its way to completion:

Friday, 21 November 2014


By the adhesive strength of Marmite, that is.

Being of a thrifty frame of mind and hating to see something I've paid good money for go to waste, I thought it would be an idea to add some hot water to the last scrapings with a view to adding a bit of flavour to a soup or stew or something.

But that, of course, required the lid to be removed, for the first time in a while.

There were pliers involved. And sundry remarks not to be repeated here. But at least the Council won't be complaining about food waste in the recycling.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Today's mystery object... a serpent - the kind you blow down to make (if you're really proficient) a sound somewhere between a French horn and a tuba.

This weekend the Painted Hall at Greenwich serves as the impressively grandiose venue for the exhibition part of the Early Music Festival, for makers and suppliers of music and musical instruments.

And an amazing collection of harps and harpsichords, recorders, viols, crumhorns, shawms, bagpipes and other products of great artistry and craftsmanship it turns out to be.

Complete with a programme of concerts by professionals and students, it (almost) inspires a desire to have a go oneself.

Monday, 10 November 2014

And round it comes again....

Gog and Magog, legendary guardians of the City
The Lord Mayor's Show, that is. This year's vantage point wasn't so ideal once the latecomers turned up and stood in front with their cameras (and sometimes umbrellas) raised, which means there are no photos of the pomp of the Lord Mayor's Coach and all the flunkeys, but that's all been discussed here before, on more than one occasion.

But the usual mixture of civic pride,  community spirit and historical reminiscence was on display: to add to the traditional robes for the liveried companies and City officers, there were several reminders of both the First and Second World Wars, and an advance warning that next year will be the bicentenary of Waterloo.

If I hadn't been too mean to buy a programme, I'd probably have known why there was an owl leading some soldiers - and fish on Segways; and where else would you expect to see a flying pig?

But be that as it may, as ever, as well as the procession, there were fireworks in the evening (and then it really rained):