Tuesday, 21 July 2015

If you've never molested a quince......

... now's your chance. According, that is, to the tour guide at the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale last Sunday. And certainly, the first beginnings of the fruit are furrily tactile; but that wasn't why everyone was there.

This is the season for cherries,and Sunday was their Cherry Festival, with a chance to see, try and buy some of the different varieties of cherry that you don't see in supermarkets, as well as visit their garden centre and various food retailers, or join in the family fun opportunities, like archery and the miniature railway.

It's not quite as impressive as the autumn Apple Festival I visited a few years ago, if only because there just aren't so many varieties of cherry, nor is there the variety of striking names.

Apart, that is, from Napoleon Bigarreau (surely, a criminal mastermind from the 19th century), and Merton Bigarreau (who must be his do-gooding cousin) - and May Duke (the innocent victim of Napoleon's evil intentions).

Monday, 15 June 2015

Part of this year's hoopla to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (special stamps, ceremonies and so on) is an exhibition at the British Library. Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy brings together documents and artefacts to explain the background to that first Charter, and explore the way the idea, as much as the reality, of it inspired later concepts of liberty and rights that the barons who forced King John to it could never have conceived of.  It's a narrower and perhaps shallower focus than the Taking Liberties exhibition a few years ago, but still an interesting corrective to so many received ideas of how it all happened and what the Charter actually said and did.

Visiting the copy at Salisbury Cathedral a few years ago, I got into conversation with an American visitor who was earnestly trying to find where it guaranteed the right to bear arms, which of course it didn't. Since it was mainly about protecting the property rights of the already powerful against arbitrary fundraising by the king, its appeal to the Parliamentarians at the start of the Civil War is fairly obvious - an initially conservative response to what's perceived to be unduly radical change imposed from the top, as later in America.

Now we have a Conservative government claiming it needs to protect Magna Carta from the current Human Rights Act, though quite how whatever they claim as faults in the Act fall foul of the few remaining parts of the Charter in legal force, is hard to see. So the Charter's legend moves to a level even further from its historical origins.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Capitalism works for me?

Another surprising sight on a visit to Chrisp St Market.

No sooner is one election out of the way than passers-by were being called on to press a Yes/No button on this particular question, indeed to engage in discussion with the artist who set it up (an optimist, you might think - no surprise, then, that he turned out to be American).

It's all tied up with something called the 2Degrees Festival, all about worthy attempts to get us thinking, though I suspect most of us just think what we would have thought anyway, if at all (not that this was a question that actually featured much in the election campaign).

I remarked on the symbolism of the choice of venue, since the market's on the edge of the Lansbury Estate, one of the visible reminders of the Festival of Britain and the time when welfarist social democracy reached its high point in this country. But it turned out that they simply had to take the venues they could get, not being able to get approval for anywhere in the City (now there's a surprise).

(PS: The obvious answer is that for someone of my age, capitalism worked out quite well, but that's because its ability to amplify human impulses was held in check by proper regulation and good old-fashioned scepticism. Not so much nowadays, for those priced out of the race to build up capital.)

Thursday, 4 June 2015


I've never been the greatest fan of the "hairy handbag" sort of dog, and I rather fancy this King Kong sized version (in Chrisp Street Market) could be the stuff of somebody's nightmares.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Sign outside a café in Spitalfields. To judge by the numbers inside, this sort of niche marketing works.

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.