Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Metereological autumn begins with a busy weekend of events. On Saturday morning, the Great River Race, with its usual complement of picturesque flags, colourful boats and funny costumes (though some contestants were earnestly doing their stretching exercises when I went past the launching point).

Later on, the weather was doing its best to make up for the pyro-friendly conditions it set up for the Great Fire of London 350 years ago this weekend. The anniversary is being marked by a major festival events. One of these was a "domino topple" of breeze blocks, symbolising the speed and extent of the fire's spread. Starting, not quite in Pudding Lane like the fire, but from the Monument nearby, down Fish Street Hill to Lower Thames street, then up again towards Bank, Cornhill and Cheapside (setting off  second and third streams towards St Paul's and Cripplegate en route), snaking its way along the streets, through back alleys, squares and markets, and even through buildings.

Since the topple was moving too fast for the following spectators, I went another way up towards Bishopsgate to catch it at a later point. It had been set up to emerge from the back alleys through the Cross Keys pub and across and then up the street from there, but even quite a small crowd filled up the available viewing space. Traffic was of course blocked off in both directions and some drivers were making their impatience evident, much to the amusement of the man on the Stop-Go sign: "I'm paid more the longer I stay here!". A further diversion found a less crowded spot in Leadenhall Market, and eventually the stream appeared and disappeared up towards London Wall.

Next up will be the burning on the Thames of a wooden replica of mediaeval London, but I rather suspect the crowds and weather will make it the kind of even best seen on a screen - and it's being livestreamed online, thank goodness.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Cave or café?

This seeming cleft in a cliff is actually the entrance to this year's Serpentine Pavilion, the annual temporary architectual experiment and café at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park.

It's something to aim for as the object of a long bike ride across town, all the easier now they've finished the dedicated "cycle superhighway" along the Embankment (all Dutch-style separated roadspace and dedicated traffic light phases).

Seen from other angles, the Pavilion is not so much of a dark cavern. Since it's made of open fibreglass boxes, presumably quite light and easy to bolt together quickly, it's light and airy inside: though the breeziness might lose its charm on other sorts of summer day.

In the past, the pavilion has been a throwback to the 70s in style,  a cloister hidden by a dark corridor, and a cork-lined hobbit-hole, among others; the last one I went to see was a Meccano puzzle, which like this year's almost invited exploratory climbing.

But these fibreglass boxes presumably don't sustain much additional weight, or more likely the potential for a painful tumble is too great, because there were attendants posted to warn off any adventurous toddlers (of any age).

And there were some things worth seeing on the ride there, too:

Monday, 22 August 2016

Mystery in Mile End Park

Cycling along the Regent's Canal, one gets used to the narrowboats moored alongside, and they seem to be more numerous than ever this summer. Mostly they look almost as purely functional as they did in their cargo-carrying heyday, even if their interiors might be well and truly spruced up as mobile homes with all mod. con. Some are clearly only being used as temporary, rough-and-ready or even downright scruffy boltholes for the knit-your-own-bicycle artistic set. I've seen the odd mobile café and bookshop as well.

They all look ready to move, as indeed they mostly must: "home moorings" aren't that common and are expensively over-subscribed, and only a maximum stay of 14 days is allowed anywhere else.

But then one day there was this - a complete garden occuping every square inch of roof and the minimal decking. Not, you might think, the most easily moved. Canals may not be prone to massive waves and washes, with a maximum permitted speed of 4mph, but it would only take a small bump in a lock or a sharpish turn to topple over a few pots and statuettes.

Nevertheless, a few days later, it had gone, or at least, none of the boats on view had anything like this degree of decoration. If they put all this lot inside, there wouldn't be much room for anything or anyone else: so where did it all go?

Click to enlarge

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Signs of the times

Seen along the cycle path into town today:

Since this is on one of the most mediocre, not to say scruffy, buildings in the area, I suppose they would know

I haven't the faintest idea what this is for; it appears to be on every new cyclist-specific trafffic light, but if they want people to give it due deference and obedience, perhaps it should say "Cyclists stay aweful" - but that doesn't sound right at all.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Something to look forward to

This trailer on TV reminds me of the kind of notice that used to appear occasionally at my school: "Tuesday will be Wednesday ALL DAY". It all made sense in context, but stand back and it's decidedly peculiar.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Hair today

On one of those days where walking almost anywhere in central London makes you think the collective noun for tourists is "a drift", circumstances enforce attention to local detail.

Such as this particular poster, in the little bit of Soho now branded as Chinatown. With bunting of the flag of what used to called Red China fluttering overhead, I suppose the name is explicable.

But in among the photos of hairstyle models, there's no picture of the man himself. I wonder why?

Karl Marx - hairstyle model. Or maybe not.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Thursday, 30 June 2016

A modern political career...

(For those who haven't followed the ins and outs of all this, the links will explain....)

1. The Mop-headed Buffoon becomes Our Beloved Mayor®
2. After eight years of achieving or initiating... well, not a lot, Our Beloved Mayor® becomes the Great White Shark circling No. 10
3. Seizing his opportunity, the Great White Shark attempts to position himself as the nation's Great White Hope, resuming an earlier persona as the asbestos-pantied promoter of dubious tales about the EU, only this time not so much as a wizard jape, as with actual serious consequences
4. On realising that the consequences might be more serious than he thought (despite what so many people had been telling him), the Great White Hope starts retreating from his taller tales
5. When his bestest friend turns out to have been marched on to the playground to take his ball  away, the Great White Hope becomes the Mop-Headed Poltroon and wanders off to.....
6. ..... next stop - the Paul Gascoigne comedy circuit?

And these people think they are educated, trained, entitled to run the country?

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

So in this brave new world (or strange new limbo), where those who won don't appear to be quite sure whether they really wanted whatever it is they have won, if they could only decide what it is, and those who lost don't know what to do next, what certainties are there?

Death and taxes, of course, according to Benjamin Franklin (or Daniel Defoe). To which, as after every other trip abroad, I have to add, as neither of them did (but that's eighteenth-century patriarchy for you)..... laundry.

And showing one's holiday snaps (even if they are curiously similar to every other year's):
Stubaital - the Rütz-Katarakt
Stubaital- mountain meadow

Munich - Alte Pinakothek

Thursday, 23 June 2016

From my point of view...

I am still in Europe (Austria, to be precise).

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Ah, the great panoply of London life.... All the pomp and circumstance of Trooping the Colour for the Queen's 90th birthday this morning, and then the World Naked Bike Ride in the afternoon - and the rain (is it better to cycle in the rain clothed or in the nip? I fear the latter might cause some chafing).

Not that I went up to town to see either.

Instead, we have some visiting sailing ships to admire at Canary Wharf: the US Coastguard's Eagle and the Mexican Cuauhtemoc, quite putting the shame the plutocratic gin palaces moored behind them.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

My dental appointment would just have to be on the day summer finally looked to have decided to make an appearance, wouldn't it? But all was in order, and a few  (if interminable-seeming) minutes of scraping and polishing wouldn't spoil the rest of the day.

Just the sort of day, and time of year, for a look at Queen Mary's rose gardens in Regent's Park. Not exactly a quiet walk in the park, what with the numbers of people with the same idea, but still restful.

Not all the bushes were in full flower, and some were definitely not living up to their names - not a bloom was to be seen on Sight Saver, and Song and Dance was doing anything but.  However, Majestic was looking sufficiently Queen Mother-like, and Ingrid Bergman certainly suggested the lady in question (but Deep Secret was hardly in deep cover):


Ingrid Bergman

Deep Secret

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: