Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Getting home from central London on the day of the Big Snow (the Saturday before Christmas) required some variations in route. I ended up on the Waterloo and City Line, which (for various historical reasons) only links Waterloo and Bank for those who work in the City; so it was no surprise to find a completely empty carriage on a Saturday. But there was something even odder about it: the phantom balloon decorators had struck again:

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

For whatever reason, I've felt bereft of inspiration and rather detached from blogs and blogging recently. Even the Big Snow caught me without my camera when it was worth photographing in London, before it vanished into slush. But where I've been spending Christmas - barely an hour away - it was still Christmas-card perfect:

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Just imagine!

Only six more months till the days start getting shorter again.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

I've never claimed to be spectacular, but today I am completely unspectacled. Fatigue has finally overcome the frame of one of my lenses, which now has a tendency to dangle uselessly (I know how it feels).

Ah well, they had a good innings, and a new sight test was long overdue; but although my prescription hasn't changed much, it still involves varifocal lenses that will take a time to produce. Christmas will be viewed through more of a sentimental haze than usual.

Fortunately, I seem to have become a little more longsighted, which means managing without glasses isn't a great problem for immediate survival, reading or using the computer. However, once out of the house, I'm struck every now and again by a momentary panic, as my brain registers that something is missing, and that not everything in my field of vision is immediately comprehensible. Is this what old age will be like?

What's more, watching TV without my glasses is less than satisfactory, so in the comfort and privacy of home I shall be looking like a refugee from the 1940s, with the lenses held in approximate relationship to each other by an elaborate but precarious arrangement of sticky tape. Don't all laugh.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Party time

We may be having milder weather for a few days, but people are still dressing for winter on their way to work.

Just about.

On the tube this morning, there was a young woman with the regulation woolly teacosy hat, thick scarf and sensible wool coat - from which peeped out fingerless mittens covered in black sequins.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Whether it's the hibernation instinct in all the cold weather, the generally gloomy news around the world or an irritatingly persistent cough, there hasn't been much to inspire a post recently.

But even my inner Scrooge had to crack a smile at this enthusiastic band, on Oxford St today (as did most of the audience - they really were there, even though my camera seemed to miss them almost entirely):

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sign of the times

Spotted in the café in Foyle's bookshop:

"Please finish your phone conversation before ordering".

And quite right too.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Let there be..


Bike lights, to be precise. I've never been bothered about riding in the dark, probably because I learnt to drive in the winter and therefore mostly in the dark. The basic, regulation, one white, one red would be enough. Nothing fancy, just what you need to stay within the law and drivers' eyesight.

But then a pothole shook the rear light loose, and its red cover smashed. Only after I'd bought a replacement did I realise that the bulbs still showed red, as long as I held the batteries in with some clingfilm and sellotape: so now I had a spare to clip on to the back of my collar as a supplement.

Then I bought my Winkku, which also has front and rear lights. So now I could have one red light showing to one side as well as the original on my collar and the replacement on the saddle post.

And then my rear reflector cracked and fell off, and the only replacement I could find that fitted and helped hold the rear mudguard in place was yet another light with all sorts of sparkling and flashing options. How could I resist?

I'm almost a one-man mobile red light district.

But that was before I saw these:

Monday, 8 November 2010

Pootling and pottering

One advantage of cycling is that you can stop and explore the byways - and in the City, there are more various and mysterious back alleys than might be expected. Behind the massive office facades along the main roads, there are passages and courtyards that look little changed since Victorian times or even before.

And that's how I came to find, among the Victorian survivals and postwar Georgian pastiche reconstructions, modern nods to local history. The church of St James Garlickhythe stands where once there would have been a riverside wharf, and now overlooks a flow of cars and lorries; outside it stands this acknowledgement of its links with the Vintners and Dyers companies, whose representatives row up river each spring to mark their share of the new season's swans, which for some ancient reason they share with the Crown.

A little further on, this statue of a cordwainer (shoemaker) sits in Cordwainer Ward, on Watling Street. Like most of the City's streets and especially its back lanes, it's quiet, almost empty, at the weekends, the customers for its shops and cafés being the local office-workers; it might be a street in a sleepy village or country town. Hard to imagine that the high road between Roman London and the garrisons of the north west must have run along here; but at one end, the shiny new shopping centre opposite St Paul's seems to be drawing in weekend customers - perhaps the existing businesses will try to tempt them further down the street.

A litle later, I came across thsi more convivial way of cycling around London, but it might be too large for those back lanes and alleys:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Not long now

One more day to get home from work in the last of the daylight:

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Is there no limit to our beloved Mayor*'s enterprise?

*sarcasm alert

Or is this shop in Hackney Road his Eulalie?

Not bad for £7

My window-boxes have sat indoors for far too long, while the exterior was being repainted and indecision about replacing the summer plants set in, but a sunny Sunday morning encouraged a re-stocking trip to Columbia Road.

I think I may have stumbled on the secret of shopping here (at least for someone impatient, like me) - approach from the eastern end. It's less crowded, and I suspect the eye-catching offers may appear a bit earlier at this end. Within about 15 minutes, five cyclamens, a dianthus and five violas were mine for £7. Now all I've got to do is clear out the casualties and make room for the new arrivals:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

More solutions

On my way back from the Post Office (why is the person in front of me in the queue always the angry one with the complicated grievance?), I noticed yet another "solutions" merchant: a van on a building site, advertising "progressive fenestration solutions" (=they put in the windows).

Just the sort of thing to make me contemplate a progressive defenestration solution of my own.

Friday, 15 October 2010

I have become a work of art..

..and I have a certificate to prove it.

As part of this year's Frieze Art Fair, Gavin Turk brought his "Bikes de Bois Rond" to Regent's Park. The bikes are sturdy three-speed models, the frame wrapped in a decorative cladding in a style borrowed from a Polish artist. A brief escorted ride around the park's Outer Circle, past the Rose Garden and the back end of the Open Air Theatre, costs a mere penny charged to a credit card, though anyone absconding with one of these colourful machines would find a charge of £5000 appearing pretty soon. That you can indeed spend a penny and call it art these days may, no doubt, be an additional hommage, to Duchamp.

On return, a tear-off slip confirms that I am "to be considered an authentic work of art for all intents and purposes". Don't all genuflect at once.

This was just one of the exhibits in the open air Sculpture Park, a scattering of sculptures and installations in the English Garden (looking splendid in the autumn sun). This part of the fair was at least free: I didn't bother with the exhibition marquee, which cost a cool £25 (I may have been certified, but I'm not that certifiable). It was enough to enjoy the return of the sunshine and wander through the collection, which included what looked like dilapidated statues of Darwin, a distorting mirror that swang this way and that in the breeze, a couple of stone eggs, a maze made of water hyacinth root, and an elevated pile of German rubbish (literally) complete with smoke and sound effects.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

More excitement on the river

Yet another unexpected sight on the way to the shops on a Saturday morning - here, what looked like a swanmaster's barge from the more genteel part of the river.

All part of the preparations for the Great River Race, in which boats of all shapes and sizes (as long as they're human-powered) are rowed or paddled 21 miles between us and Richmond, clear on the other side of London.

Until recently, it was our teatime that was punctuated with the sounds of a procession of tiring crews being urged on down that last unforgiving mile, and the signal gun marking the finish opposite Greenwich. But now they prefer to go with the rising tide in the other direction, so it was the morning that saw our local pier unusually busy with waiting safety boats, while another small flotilla of them roared excitedly down to Greenwich.

Most of the Isle of Dogs is marshy and low-lying ground and needs the protection of its high embankments, but there are a few spots where slipways remain. At one, normally deserted but for the recycling bins, crowds of people were getting ready to launch. Huge flags and fancy dress were the order of the day for many as the river filled up in the wait for the starting gun.

An hour or two later, the last of the temporary pontoons and Portaloos were trucked away and the slipway returned to its normal deserted, flotsam-strewn peace, with not a sign of its brief time as, well, a hive of activity:

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Fourth Plinth time again..

Passing St Martin in the Fields the other day, I noticed that the Crypt is hosting an exhibition and consultation (until the end of October) on the next occupants of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

There are some ideas here I just don't get (a Battenberg cake made out of bricks? A giant blue cockerel, and the artist's description makes no reference to its associations with France - in Trafalgar Square?). The giant organ that's also a cash machine would be quite amusing at the Royal Exchange (by the Bank of England), or round the back of St Paul's, but is meaningless in Trafalgar Square.

So that leaves three contenders with some sort of relevance to the site. One at least allows for the fact that most people will see it from underneath - an outline of Britain with an idealised mountainscape on top; but generic mountains in a country that isn't very Alpine surrounded by buildings made from stone quarried mostly by the sea....?

The other two play with the images of military leaders all around the Square. A Victorian general submerged in other cultures' fetish symbols is a colourful comment on the sternly triumphant statues all around, but the idea looks very much like a continuation of the current model of HMS Victory with sails made of African cloth. Not that there's anything wrong in that, but perhaps it's time for a shift of emphasis. The golden child on a rocking-horse makes a striking and thought-provoking contrast - but something about it looks indefinably clumsy to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Thames Festival

Not the most obvious thing one expects to see on the way to the supermarket, but last weekend was the Thames Festival, and there was plenty to see on and along the river, all the way from Tower Bridge to Waterloo Bridge.

Music, entertainments, stalls for arts, crafts and worthy causes (especially related to the river and the environment) were all on tap. I learnt (and immediately forgot) how to distinguish a reef knot from a thief knot, and all about the huge super-sewer tunnel to be built under the river (I thought that was well in hand ages ago, but apparently still not).

The river parade, such as it was, seemed a bit thin, though no doubt it would have been more interesting if I'd been near the commentary point. A few siren blasts and a fire boat, and it seemed to be gone. But Tower Bridge obligingly opened for a sailing barge, and later, for no apparent reason, a sturdy-looking launch carried some energetic bellringers down the river, so there was something to see actually on the water.

On land, I wanted to see the Hot Club of Belleville, who do 20s and 30s numbers in Reinhardt/Grappelli style, only with a tuba and a pretty lady violinist who occasionally plays a saw. Also on hand were the London Bulgarian Choir, who got people dancing with them, clog and morris dancing at Hay's Galleria, and hula-hoops and swing dancing outside Tate Modern.

Once again, Southwark Bridge was closed for the Feast on the Bridge. As well as the many and varied food stalls to buy your feast from, there was a rural theme. Somewhat surreally, every lamp-post was decorated with a scarecrow, there was a thatching demonstration and corn-dolly making (or you could make yourself a fruity hat if you preferred), and an irruption from a Romanian band giving out gingerbread men.

Those who needed further refreshment could get a green coconut opened for them to drink the water, and those who needed more excitement could try the helter-skelter with a view of St Paul's.

I'd chosen something more restful: a suitably nautical recital on a Thames sailing barge; but here are some more impressions of the afternoon:

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

As September gathers pace, so does the sequence of public events in London. This year's vintage Proms season draws to its close next weekend, which is also the Thames Festival, with the Feast on the Bridge, then the Open House Weekend, and the Great River Race at the end of the month. I've posted about most of those before: it's hard to find something new to say about them (though I have found something unusual to do connected with the Thames Festival - watch this space!).

So too with last Sunday's Skyride (what used to be called the London Freewheel and now thoroughly Murdoch-branded, boo! hiss!). I was riding into town that way anyway, and thought I might as well tag along, though not expecting to see anything to add to the last time I posted about it, I'd forgotten to take my camera. As it happens, at least at the time I was riding, there seemed to be thousands more cyclists than in previous years.

Along Tower Hill, there was a striking contrast of future and past. On one side, an almost solid jam of cyclists waited patiently for the chance to inch forward towards the Embankment. On the other, complete with band and banners flying, the British Legion and Merchant Navy Association marched in the opposite direction to the Merchant Navy Memorial for a commemoration.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Shopping with a difference

One of the incidental pleasures of travelling abroad is the - sometimes indefinable - differences in quite mundane aspects of daily life, such as shopping. In the Netherlands, HEMA strikes me as much more stylish for a cheap-and-cheerful household store than its erstwhile UK equivalent (which may be one of the reasons why Woolworth's went out of business).

As witness their online shop:


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Back on the bike, to Broadway Market

I haven't been cycling much: too lazy when it was hot, too comfort-loving when it was raining, and all the time too aware of various creaks and rattles and too mean to pay for professional servicing (the place I bought it from ended up charging me, for its first annual service, about half what it cost in the first place).

With some help from the local cycle group's monthly maintenance workshop, I sorted out the wobbly wheel with a spoke-wrench and a new tyre; only to find that somehow I'd misadjusted the gears, and couldn't work out whether I had the cable too tight or too loose. Finally, after weeks of on-and-off ineffectual prodding and puzzled staring (I'm good at that), the gears magically relented, and suddenly worked as the shift control said they should.

So yesterday I went for a gentle ride up the Regent's Canal to Broadway Market. This is a short street between the canal and London Fields, barely a hundred yards long, nowadays the heartland of the knit-your-own-vegan-bicycle classes.

Above the street, there is a fine display of flags of all nations, suggesting a high proportion of transient flatsharers from other parts of the world alongside the established immigrant communities (in this part of London, noticeably Turkish and Vietnamese).

Further gentrification is clearly on the way in the surrounding neighbourhood, to judge by the estate agents' windows, but for now, there's a mix of old and new, with art bookshops and upmarket florists cheek-by-jowl with secondhand furniture, the Turkish barber, and a traditional tiled-interior pie and mash shop:

This isn't really a general, buy anything you need, sort of market. True, there are ordinary shops along the street, but I only saw one greengrocer's stall. This market is more about entertainment and casual, fancy-that, shopping. Beside the street musician, there were crocheted blankets, knitted teacosies and winter coats for your hairy-handbag dog, handmade guitars, secondhand bikes, homemade birthday cards and ladies' scanties:

Mostly, what's on sale is food - and more food. On top of the cafés and restaurants spilling out on to the street, you can browse the stalls, and let yourself be tempted by Portuguese hog-roast, German bratwurst, Polish pastries, Italian varietal olive oils, fish, fudge - and (this year's craze) cupcakes:

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lovely Eleanor

Well, I don't know that she was, but Eleanor of Castile inspired one of the more romantic mediaeval acts of love.

Passing through Charing Cross, I noticed that the huge stone cross in the forecourt has been restored and cleaned up. It's a Victorian reinvention of the memorial cross put up by King Edward I to Eleanor of Castile, his wife. She died near Lincoln in 1290, and her body was brought back to London; everywhere the cortège rested for the night, Edward had a memorial cross built. The last night before her interment in Westminster Abbey was reputedly spent just here.

The romance of it seems all the more remarkable, bearing in mind that in those days royal marriages were about dynastic business and strategic relationships; and Edward himself was one of the grimmer examples of a warrior king, known as "Hammer of the Scots", and conqueror of the last native Welsh princes, famously tricking the Welsh nobles into accepting his infant son as Prince of Wales (because they said they would only accept one who spoke no English).

The original mediaeval cross was removed in the iconoclasms of the Civil War in the 17th century, and not replaced until the railway company commissioned something grand to mark their new station in 1865. And now the grime and decay of the industrial era has been scraped away, and graceful and delicate details can be seen once more - if you dodge the circling taxis, that is.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


I've just seen someone use this word, evidently to mean cycling on what I suppose we must now submit to calling a Borisbike (it does at least pre-empt any possible use by the tabloids the next time they want to suggest he may have a play-away-mate).

Logically, one might expect it to be "boricling", but that obviously would refer the visible adherence of lycra after exceptional exertions on one of these wonder-machines.

Friday, 13 August 2010

What personality?

My sister-in-law is mystified at being identified as a mechanic.

Such is the world of psychometric testing, particularly when it's yoked to some automatic prose analysis system. I've done more than one Myers-Briggs test; I can never remember what it said, though I'm sure I winced in recognition at being consistently labelled an introvert, and that it didn't leave me aghast, or rolling on the floor in laughter.

This, on the other hand, seems particularly fanciful. I wasn't surprised to find that the results varied according to the prose that's fed into it. Some very dull and factual stuff had me among the INTJ "Scientists", but two separate submissions of this blog had me first among the ENTP "Visionaries":

They highly value knowledge, and spend much of their lives seeking a higher understanding. They live in the world of possibilities, and become excited about concepts, challenges and difficulties. When presented with a problem, they're good at improvising and quickly come up with a creative solution. Creative, clever, curious, and theoretical"

and then among the ESTP "Doers":

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

I may be inclined to start things without finishing them, but I have absolutely no problem about sitting still and inactive. The two traits are not unrelated.

What does surprise me (though perhaps it shouldn't) is the suggestion of an inner extrovert, just waiting to burst out of this blog, vuvuzelatastically spurting party poppers and goosing passers-by.

I rather suspect, though, that if I give it another go, it'll tell me I'm something else, but will never be uncomplimentary. So keep trying, Nancy, you could turn out to be among the Performers, Artists, Inspirers or Idealists. Perhaps it just needs to be given a biscuit.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A musical offering

A colleague, whose mind is often more on music than current affairs, found himself referring to Baroque Obama.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Faux amis

I've learnt a new French verb from Claude's blog: "je fessebouc" (think about it).

Does that mean that the French think of the world's largest online network as "Bumgoat"?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Multiple personalities

Alerted by Mizz Scarlet, I have been undergoing analysis - stylistically, that is - through this enterprising site.

Depending on which particular past posting I submit to it, I write like

(a) Oscar Wilde
(b) H. P. Lovecraft
(c) Ernest Hemingway
(d) D*n Br*wn (the horror! the horror!).

Perhaps I should settle for being Walt Whitman (who, on this evidence, apparently wrote like Charles Dickens) with his grandiloquent excuse:

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

Fortunately, I don't think their database encompasses Enid Blyton - their analysis of an example of her oeuvre entitled Big-Hands and Nobbly is that she wrote like J. K. Rowling.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

And there's me wondering...

is someone trying to make tripe look glamorous?

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Circuses for not much bread

Suddenly we seem to be in the middle of festivals and other cultural events that are, happily, free.

The Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (mostly dance and performance arts) is coming to an end, though there is plenty more happening in Greenwich over the summer. On Friday, the big local (i.e., within walking distance) interest was another waterborne late night performance by Ilotopie, on Millwall Dock. Last year's spectacular, if somewhat Frenchly surreal, performance, full of grotesques, movement and fireworks, had us all agog with expectation.

Oh dear. Some caricaturish people drifted around having animated, if silent, conversations on mobile phones. Some tall structures looking vaguely like reindeer skeletons circled around. A rocky island somehow inflated itself. A long platform hauled itself into view, along which various grotesque characters ran or wheeled themselves in various contrivances. One or two jumped into the water, for no obvious reason, while others threw various objects away (searing condemnation of our wasteful lives, no doubt). The rest began a parody of consumerist babble all together at full pelt, one breaking into assorted national anthems. There was a small amount of flame, and a lot of smoke - the wind, kindly or unkindly, blew it towards, so my perception of the action may be distorted. As far as I could make out, the platform broke up, one of the grotesques got separated from her unfeasibly large plaster legs, and most of the characters ended up in the water. A rather large metal framework expanded itself. The end.

On Saturday, central London was not quite taken over by the Pride parade and stages.

The parade was the by now almost traditional gallimaufry of the frivolous, the worthy, the commercial, exhibitionists and fun-seekers, a fair few side streets were closed to cars, and the pubs were full to bursting with the clientele taking over the streets for the afternoon.

Along Greek St, there were samba drummers, of all ages, colours and styles of hair and dress, giving their all - whether by arrangement with the businesses along there, or purely impromptu, I don't know. It was fascinating to see the way the drummers could respond instantly to the signals of the "conductor": a combination of dance moves, sign language, whistles and the gestures of a tic-tac man seemed to control precisely what instruments should play what rhythms, to the point where one conductor simply vanished behind the crowd of spectators and communicated by whistles, before making a triumphant return. And the stamina of the performers! I was there for a good half hour, they'd been going for quite some time by then, and there was every sign they were well set in to carry on for a while when I left in search of a cuppa.

Today, we have the prospect of the Model Steam Boat rally in Victoria Park. It's all go, this urban life.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Oh dear oh dear

I don't know whether there's something in the water in Hampshire, or political coalition has strange side-effects, but there seems to be some turbulence in the love lives of local Tories and Liberal Democrats.

What's more, it appears that, while sleeping with a Toryboy can turn you into a lesbian, the Liberal Democrats have quite the opposite effect.

The Members of Parliament from Hampshire*
Give rise to some fine moral rampshire,
So rare is the Member
Who contrives to remember
To control what they keep in their pampshire.

*Note for overseas readers: Hampshire is commonly abbreviated as Hants.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Looking promising

On my route to work, one of the stations for the new cycle hire scheme has appeared: a long line of docking posts, with a pillar to pay the bills through.

So far, rather like the Paris Vélib, though the technicalities have been bought in from Montreal's Bixi scheme, and the styling and visual appearance stand out rather more from the surrounding street furniture than its Parisian equivalent.

The main pillar housing the computer screen and workings is also more informative. There are local area maps for pedestrians, a highway code for cyclists (complete with a reminder to foreign visitors to ride on the left), and a full table of charges. This is a welcome difference from Vélib, where you are dependent on the functioning of the computer screens to find out how it works and how much it's costing you.

The basic pricing principle is the same, with the first half-hour ride free (albeit at £1 rather than €1 for a day's subscription). Fees for non-return and deliberate damage are set at something more like full cost - £300 - which makes sense to me, given the reported levels of non-return and misuse in Paris.

However, it's not entirely clear if any of the anonymous slots on the pillar issues printed confirmation of subscription identification, or receipts to prove you've returned a bike, as happens in the Vélib system. And what doesn't yet seem to be available (though one hopes A-Z and other providers will bring them out soon) are maps of where the stations are: to get the best value out of such a scheme, you need to know where you can return the bike before you take it out. We do know that so far they're only in the central zone 1.

The docking slot on each post is centrally placed, by contrast with the Vélib bikes, which have the substantial (and initially rather alarming) weight of the docking clip on one side of the front forks.

There's a button to press to identify a faulty bike (let's hope no malicious teenagers take to pressing the lot "for a laugh"), a perhaps rather pedantic explanation of the lights confirming the docking-in process, and a slot for a "membership key" for long-term subscribers. But there seems to be no way to link the system into the Oyster card, which seems odd (in Paris, regular users can swipe their Navigo card to pay for subscriptions and use):