Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 14 April 2024

It only takes a day or two of warmth and sunshine and suddenly all the trees in the neighbourhood seem to have woken up together. This ceanothus has been there as long as I can remember, and has obviously had a tidy-up there used to be branches hanging down a lot lower.




Monday 8 April 2024

Click to see the what, when and where
- and what one must and mustn't do
It's election time again, this time for local government in London and a bunch of other cities, though since there must be a general election by next January, this will inevitably be taken as an indicator of whether the government really is staring into the abyss the opinion polls suggest.

As ever, we get this handy formal notification of when and where to go, and the essential rules. 

But this year there was also a colourful leaflet reminding us that we now have to take photo ID with us to the polling station. There's a long list of suitable documents, of which I have at least three, so it won't be a problem for most people who don't forget to take it, but one does have to wonder whether it's really necessary.

I can't recall any cases where people have been prosecuted for impersonating someone else, let alone where it would have made any difference to the overall result. If you think about it, the effort of identifying people on the register who could be plausibly impersonated and then recruiting other people to pretend to be them just doesn't look remotely likely. These days, getting enough people to go out canvassing and leafleting seems to be more and more difficult for the parties. 

This rule was applied to last year's local elections in other parts of the country, and it looks as though at most 10,000 people across the country were turned away and didn't come back, or in effect a handful of votes in any one election.

As it happens, my polling station is in the primary school just over the road, so voting just requires a slight diversion from my normal route to buy my morning paper.

It's also a chance to admire this mosaic in the playground, and the children's artwork on the walls once inside (briefly, given how quick the actual process is). 

And then it's back home for breakfast, civic duty done. 

Monday 1 April 2024

Always something new to look at up at Canary Wharf - currently a promotion for Guide Dogs for the Blind

Friday 15 March 2024

Steam trains - up a mountain and along a valley

 My trainspotting days are long gone, but they were in the age of steam, and something remains of the appeal of the steam engine which quiet, efficient electric trains just don't seem to have.  Our group had a strong contingent of serious anoraks, who knew a great deal about all that sort of thing and enthusiastically took up the option to explore as much as possible of the Harz network, with the rest of us tagging along for a couple of rides with the better views. (It wasn't just the engines that were old - the carriages were, I suspect, old third-class stock from East German railways - wooden seats and not much in the way of suspension, while the toilet facilities were the old-style trap that simply opened on to the track beneath).

The high point (literally) of the trip was to go up the Brocken mountain. Old legend has it that on Walpurgisnacht, witches would gather on the mountain for a "witches' sabbath" (sort of a springtime Halloween, but no doubt used in its time for the periodic persecution of supposed witches, as elsewhere). More recently, being such a handy high point so close to the border between East and West Germany, it became a listening post for surveillance and spying on Western transmissions, but also housed (as it still does)  a TV transmission tower. 

The train winds its way up through forests (sadly depleted since a blight struck much of it a few years ago,  as did some wildfires) to the - frankly rather bleak - plateau on top. Perhaps not surprisingly, the views from the top were almost entirely of enclosing clouds, so nobody wanted to linger.

Another day, we had more sunshine and a gentle ride through a river valley, to a quiet spa town and back. 

And it looked and felt like this:


 

Thursday 14 March 2024

More holiday snaps - Quedlinburg

As if Wernigerode weren't picturesque enough, our itinerary took us to Quedlinburg, an ancient town seemingly undisturbed (at least in its historic centre) by the ups and downs of much of Germany's history.

Half-timbered houses lining narrow winding streets (all remarkably uncluttered by modern street furniture and signage) and ornate doorways - we didn't get to see the castle, but it's easy to see why it's a tourist magnet.

 
Quedlinburg - the Market Square

Monday 4 March 2024

More holiday snaps - Wernigerode

 After our brief stop to ride the Schwebebahn, the trains took us to our base for the week, in Wernigerod: in the heart of the Harz, so to speak.

It's picturesque and traditional-looking, with plenty of half-timbered houses and flowers (it even has a floral clock, just as one used to see in the posher British seaside holiday resorts).




Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It's outside the library, at least


Wien! Wien! Nur Du allein...

And there's a castle (of course). The local aristocrats had a long history, but their castle reflects a rebuild in the ponderous taste of the late 19th century - all dark wood and stuffed hunting trophies outside, and touches of pseudo-mediaeval fairytale outside:

The castle courtyard

One thing I couldn't help noticing was that in at least one place they had retained the old East German Ampelmann for the pedestrian crossing lights. Somehow he looks rather jollier than one would expect from a Communist dictatorship, which is no doubt why he was held in such affection:

But they also maintain a nod to the area's association with legends of witches and the like:

Saturday 2 March 2024

Floating in the air

Last year wasn't all lethargy. I'd been playing with ideas of training it deeper into Germany than I have so far, tempted by a new night sleeper service from Brussels all the way round to Prague, stopping en route at, among others, Bad Schandau in the "Saxon Switzerland". As a student in 1969, unexpectedly given grant to travel, I planned to stay there as part of a trip around the then East Germany, only to find that the authorities wouldn't allow it, for no specified reason: that hadn't stopped me taking a day trip there from Dresden, but the opportunity to stay there now looked attractive.

However, that sleeper service wouldn't start until this year, and looked expensive; while dithering about whether and where to stop overnight en route by day trains, somehow F*ceb**k kept serving up adverts for (you'd be surprised how many) companies offering train-based guided trips. 

One that caught the eye was to the Harz in the dead centre of Germany (but once divided between East and West), where there's a network of steam trains, one going up to the Brocken mountain, famous in literature for witches and the like. The itinerary had us stopping for a night in Wuppertal, not the most scenic of the Ruhr's industrial towns, but among transport enthusiasts, Wuppertal is famous for its "Schwebebahn" (floating railway) - suspended from a monorail high above the river and streets below.

Once on board, it's as prosaic as any surface tram ride, bar a little tilting, and it's not as though there's much to see, but it's a useful way of whisking people along without taking up road-space:



Thursday 22 February 2024

Spring keeps on springing

As ever, the naturalised bulbs in St Anne's churchyard, in Limehouse, put out a brave display.












Wednesday 14 February 2024

Speaking of small victories

Just recently, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I found a commercial I saw just the once decades ago, but which really stuck in the memory. It turns out that it dates from 1989, and it's been judged worthy enough for the British Film Institute to archive it.

And today's the day for it:


Monday 12 February 2024

Small victories

 Over lethargy, lassitude and can't-be-botheredness, that is.  A couple of cupboard doors coming off their hinges (and built into a corner where each makes the other only approachable at an awkward angle), and a collection of old pillows and other things to take to the recycling centre: classic "round tuit" jobs louring in the background of whatever else has been on my mind. For months, I must admit.

But finally grasping the nettle, I find that those cupboard doors weren't that much of a problem - less flimsy screws fixed them firm again in half an hour. And a rare sunny day today was just right for getting out the bike to take those pillows and other things to their next destination. 

Quite why such things created such a fantigue - well, that's another question.

Now, about that bathroom...

Friday 2 February 2024

Comeback

Most of the developments round here have plenty of hardy shrubs along the street frontage. One was getting particularly overgrown, and had a radical, even brutal haircut in the autumn (on the principle, no doubt, that managing plants means sometimes being cruel to be kind). Most of them are rather dull, but this one has bounced back with one of the earliest spring flowers (already!):

Meanwhile, a few streets away, on an equally blank spot that gets full sun (when there is any), there's a snowdrop out. Spring is on its way.



Friday 5 January 2024

No thank you

Fortunately, I can't think of any bargain I particularly want or need.



 

Monday 18 December 2023

Stocking up?

If you should happen to need six litres of vodka to get the party started..







Sunday 17 December 2023

Not so enthusiastic

 Random street art pops up just about anywhere



Friday 15 December 2023

Sunday 5 November 2023

Talk about "We interrupt your viewing.."

 It being a dank and rainy evening for Guy Fawkes night, cocooning with the curtains drawn, and the TV on - as it happens, a documentary all about those barrels of gunpowder underneath the House of Lords, and all the rest. The distant whooshes and booms of fireworks some brave souls were letting off despite the weather seemed a good long way away. Until some came very loud and seemingly very near. I wondered if it was someone on their balcony upstairs. but this morning, it appears that some bright (?) sparks (see what I did there) had decided to look for somewhere dry for their  fireworks - like the garage on the ground floor of this block.

Yes, the garage. Containing a fair number of cars - with petrol tanks.

Luckily we're all still here. And they probably didn't realise they were on CCTV. 

Whether we'll hear any more about it, who knows? I'd better check my insurance, but in the meantime here are some much safer fireworks from, well, some years ago



Monday 7 August 2023

On sale now!

 New arrivals at the paper shop (yum yum - or maybe not):




Monday 19 June 2023

And so to Glasgow

Shaking off my lethargy when faced with deciding on and organising some sort of trip away, and bearing in mind the nagging awareness of how little of my own country I've visited, I plumped for a few days in Glasgow.

The sometimes rather gloomy-looking grandeur of the architecture of its commercial and industrial heyday is lightened outside the Gallery of Modern Art by the (decidedly unofficial, in the eyes of the powers that be) mascot for the city, the Duke of Wellington crowned with a traffic cone (as is his horse).
George Square and City Chambers
The Duke

The city centre has plenty of less imaginative and more mundane commercial contrasts to hefty Victorian tastes:
The former Athenaeum on Buchanan Street
Sauchiehall Street

But not all that wealth and prosperity went into imposing architecture. Plenty has gone into good works, like the Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum, whose building rather out-turrets London's Victoria and Albert, and whose collections are, well, eclectic: from art (the "Glasgow Boys" among much else), to pre-history to modern machinery. Not far away one is into the university area, eventually arriving at the Botanic Gardens, where grand Victorian greenhouses were on this occasion hosting an orchid show
 

The Kelvingrove
No, it's a bar

Orchid show at the Botanic Gardens

This pensive pose makes me want to caption it
"Oh no, did I leave the gas on?"

I had time for a couple more museums: first, the Riverside Museum, primarily a museum of transport, with all the buses, cars and trams you could wish for, but it also includes a restored sailing ship, the Glenlee
The Riverside Museum and the Glenlee
We'll probably never have a definitive answer

And finally, the "Tenement House" (meaning, in Scotland, not a near-slum but just a different sort of housing and tenure - essentially a block of a smallish number of flats - though the flats would be a bit crowded for a family).  This is a fascinating slice of preserved history, having been left largely unmodernised by its last tenant, and lovingly brought back to life as an exhibit - and an opportunity for plenty of "Granny had one of those" moments.
Proper indoor plumbling - with "marbled" wash-basin
..and all the mod cons - of 1910 (the modern radiator is an afterthought for visitors)


Saturday 10 June 2023

Revelation of the year

It helps to feed window-boxes occasionally.

Thursday 1 June 2023

Ahem. Two years later...... how some people keep up the inspiration I don't know.  

As it happens, I did get back to Paris last year, but found the whole experience oddly flat. That might have something to do with spending half a morning of a weekend trip trekking out into a commuter town to a museum only to find it closed (my fault for misreading the website). Still, I suppose it counts as an adventure of sorts.

There was some visual diversion:


And I got to see the revamped Musée Carnavalet (though it still feels a bit old-fashioned and oriented to fine arts and crafts, with not much in the way of social history or the daily life of ordinary people, as one would rather expect of a city history museum):

Later in the year, a chance reference in a magazine article to "London's only stone circle" - which turned out to be almost local - had me walking up what seemed like one of the steepest streets in London to the aptly-named Hilly Fields, where there is... an undoubted circle of stones, with a sort of gateway, and a cracked slab marked with various dates. Not exactly Stonehenge or the Ring of Brodgar, or anything old - it turns out to have been a millennium project. But it is a pleasant park with some fine vistas of the leafier parts of south-east London and a café with nice cakes, so hardly a wasted trip.