Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Interior omphalomancy

Or... navel-gazing from the inside. Which is by way of explaining the fetching photos of my innards I was given yesterday afternoon, my doctor having decided that thorough investigation of my recent indigestion required an endoscopy.

Not an experience anyone would want to repeat (unless they're really peculiar), but not as bad it might have been - I was in and out within the hour. And the upshot appears to be that there's nothing that requires treatment beyond carrying on with the pills (or, in the words they've managed to avoid saying, just something one has to expect with increasing years).

I did think it might be a good omen that, when I arrived, the TV in the waiting room was showing Brief Encounter.

Less so, perhaps, the way someone in the waiting room tried to explain to a nurse that his daughter's sleepiness might not just be down to her sedative:

"She's got slight necrophilia".

Edinburgh again

Between us, we'd been to Edinburgh often enough and over so long a period that we've almost forgotten our last visits to the most obvious tourist sights: so no apologies for joining the throng to catch up on our Scottish history at Holyrood Palace and Abbey, and the Castle, once again.

Saturday, 22 October 2011


Dundee doesn't exactly spring to mind as a tourist destination, but the lure of family history drew my sister-in-law to investigate life in the jute industry, so there we went: and the trip turned out to be well worth while.

First to the Verdant Works, whose name belies the noise and unhealthy working conditions of Victorian jute processing, but whose contents outlined both the industrial processes and their social context and consequences.

One such was a sort of female emancipation (despite the demanding disciplines of the work), since it was women workers who, commanding less pay than adult men, predominated in the factories, and often the men who stayed at home and became "kettle-biler" househusbands.

Another was the immense wealth of the "jute barons", fed back into examples of civic pride and improvement, amongst them the other surprise of this trip, the McManus Gallery. Here local history (back even to the prehistory of the Picts), improving tributes to the local great and good such as the missionary Mary Slessor, combine with art collections, not on a big scale, but with enough variety and welcome to draw in the visitor and stimulate the mind.

How many other such institutions start with a gallery asking the visitor to consider, with various examples of the things they work with, "What is a museum?".

Passing on, by a statue commemorating yet another product for which Dundee is famous, we came down to the waterfront, where Captain Scott's Discovery is open to visit (we didn't), guarded by these unusual-looking bollards.

From here one can see the long expanse of the railway bridge, not perhaps as beautiful as the first such bridge here, but more longlasting as it straddles the Tay (which is still silvery):

Friday, 21 October 2011

A weekend in Edinburgh

For a Londoner born and bred, it would be a bit hypocritical to make a great deal of my Scottish ancestors. I have been to Edinburgh plenty of times to find out more about them (and for what it's worth, as is no doubt statistically probable with most people, there is much more geographical and ethnic diversity the further back you go, of which more later); so while my sister-in-law looked up her family history this weekend, my brother and I went along just to visit.

After I arrived there was time for a lung-stretching stroll up, round and down a bleakly wet Calton Hill for its perspective over Edinburgh city centre before meeting their train, and an evening stroll to catch a view of the Castle by night:

Friday saw us checking out the Surgeons' Hall museum: not just body parts in bottles, but an overview of the development of surgical techniques, with a detour to explore the origins of Sherlock Holmes, and a chance to test your skills at manipulating remotely-controlled instruments. Fortunately I already known I can never get the teddy bear in those things on seaside piers, so there'd be no chance of my killing someone trying to do a similar job in surgery. Then we stretched our leg muscles down the Royal Mile and up again, calling in at the Parliament for coffee (the Debating Chamber wasn't in use, so visitors could walk in, admire its light and functional interior - and note that, if debates become too heated, the Presiding Officer has a fire extinguisher within easy reach), peering down narrow closes (and discovering the charming Dunbars Close Garden), stopping off to visit St Giles's Cathedral, the Writers' Museum and a very windswept Castle Esplanade. A chance glance at the posters outside the Canongate church revealed a concert that night by the Kammerchor Chemnitz and an Edinburgh University choir, which turned out to be an unexpected treat.
John Knox's House

Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Not so recent history

A week gone since the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable St, and more than that since Wilton's Music Hall had a weekend of commemorative events to mark the anniversary. [I've had a cold and the dog ate my blogging kit - well, that's my excuse].

Nowadays, Cable St is a quiet side-street, almost entirely lined with housing estates and best-known as one of the few cycle lanes that approaches continental standards: hardly a battleground. But in October 1936, a planned Fascist march into the heart of the East End was halted by crowds of residents, backed up by barricaded streets. In those days, it was still legal to dress up in military-style uniforms for a deliberate act of coat-trailing through an area with a strong Jewish and trade union population. So, even though the BUF was known to chant anti-Semitic slogans, and even gloried in violence against their opponents, the march had not been banned, despite requests from the local councils, and the police were deployed to try to clear the street. Hence the battle. The residents kept this up until late afternoon, at which point the Police Commissioner advised Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader, to give up the attempt: so off they went to march along the Embankment while there was still some daylight. So much for Mosley's attempt to be a Man of Destiny, and the Great Leader like his continental models; if he'd ever represented anything significant, he didn't now.

There's a permanent commemoration in the mural on the side of St George's Town Hall, a little further down Cable St, which is reproduced on the poster above for the weekend's events. Wilton's air of slightly melancholic delapidation seemed to suit its nostalgic elements, with its exhibition on the British and Irish contribution to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (in its opening stages in the autumn of 1936), reproduction posters from Spain to accompany the 19th century Indian dancers on its crumbling walls, historical documentary rehashing the old debates between the local and national left-wing parties about how to deal with the Fascists, talks on the literature and performances of the music of the period. Outside in the sudden late hot spell, the alleyway hosted a few stalls for various leftwing and community causes, with the compulsory jazz band. I'm assuming the man with the tray of "Fairly Fresh Fish" (that suddenly sprang into mechanical life when approached by the unwary) was there to entertain.

There were talks, films and exhibitions on present-day Cable St, and its challenges too, not least the latest incarnation of the resentments that fed the BUF. Are such bullies deterred, or encouraged in their pre-emptive sense of grievance and martyrdom that they direct against "the other", by being banned, or by being confronted and chased away?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Belgium invades!

Being a bit slow on the uptake this week (that hot weather managed to bring a cold with it, can you imagine), it's taken me until now to react to the startling news that Belgians have taken over British territory, albeit temporarily.

I can't think why (though I suppose the absence of a government in Belgium let them think they didn't need permission) It isn't as though there's a brewery or a chippy there. It's not called Rockall for nothing.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Politely apocalyptic

They get a different class of slogan scrawler at Watney Market: