Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 30 August 2007

Not a club I'd care to join..

Much amused by this report in the Going Underground blog, as indeed I have been watching respectable adults wondering if they dare elbow a five-year-old out of the way to get to the front seats on the DLR.

I don't mind, really, as long as they don't go "Woo-woo!" all the time.

Friday 24 August 2007

On me hols again...

In Paris for a few days. Interesting to see it with someone who's never been before, indeed was rather overcome at the sight of some of the grander bits this morning.

Oh that we could have as many litter-bins and streets as clean as central Paris..

and I wish the powers that be luck with adopting the Vélib bike rental idea (I'm not sure it would work over more than an area roughly about the size of the cental congestion zone in London: but if, as in Paris, it's all run by a private company and they want to take the risk, then bring it on).

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Channelling Hitchcock?

Does someone at the BBC have ambitions to treat the female talent like Hitchcock?

First they put Julia Bradbury in the charge of a hunky instructor to be terrified on some fearsome rock climbs.

Then they put Kate Silverton in the charge, etc., etc., to be terrified on some dangerous waves and whirlpools.

All credit to the two of them for facing and overcoming their fears (I couldn't and wouldn't have done it), but I wonder quite what was going on in the minds of whoever dreamt these programmes up.

Saturday 18 August 2007

Roses, castles and sacred books

I wasn't sure what to expect from the Canal Museum.

It turns out to be two floors of static panels explaining in outline how and why the canals were built and developed, with part of a narrowboat (showing the cramped living quarters squeezed in behind the freight area, all cupboards, cubbyholes, lace curtains and "castles and roses" painting) and some cases of artefacts, particularly the familiar flower-painted furniture and tools; in one corner, a small TV shows a 1920s film of the Regent's Canal, contrasting with a more recent (but now some 15-20 years old) documentary about it. There's also a bit about the building, which was set up as an ice-house by an Italian in the 19th century (and some panels about Italian immigrants to the UK). There's a shop with the kind of books, postcards, maps and tea-towels you might expect, and some traditional Measham and novelty narrowboat teapots.

But I didn't get much sense of what life was like for families living and working on the canals. I seem to remember reading somewhere that there was a high level of literacy problems among the children of canal people because they were never settled in school: not a whiff of that here. Likewise, the number of people who moved across the country as "navigators" (= navvies, a word you don't hear much any more) must have led to all sorts of social changes. I don't suppose there's much in the way of either written or spoken records from the people who worked the canal boats - and I only vaguely know of AP Herbert's "Water Gipsies" - but it would enliven things a bit to have something about, and if possible from them.

It's an interesting example of how hard voluntary organisations like this must find it to keep up with the way museums have developed over the last 20 years or so. It costs £3 and perhaps an hour of your time.

Outside, in the Battlebridge Basin, the residential boats seemed to be all locked up and deserted. I suppose by now I shouldn't be surprised at a heron coming so close to people - this one kept a wary eye on me, but didn't seem too bothered by my presence. (Yes, I did note the serendipitous name on the boat).

Afterwards, I thought I'd have a cuppa at the British Library, only to discover the exhibition devoted to the sacred books of the Abrahamic religions. There are beautiful things in this thought-provoking display, but it was getting late, so - as it's free - I'll go back to give it some serious attention.

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Omphalomantic obsession*

I've started checking you out, gentle reader(s). Those free reader-meters are fascinating.

So góðan dag, þakka þú fyrir heimsókn! to the 4% of you whose language (I'm told) is Icelandic, and goede dag en dank u weel voor het bezoek! to the 4% who are Dutch-speakers. Well, all right, one person each.

Can I tempt someone to feed back just a little something? I mean, I'm used to talking to myself, but sometimes it's nice to know someone's paying attention. And/or if what I'm saying isn't worth paying attention to.


Sunday 12 August 2007

Tick tock (or not)

Intrigued by this site of forlorn hope - I say forlorn hope because there's a reason why public clocks don't get repaired (with this notable exception, the one stopped clock that hits the headlines).

For one thing, not only are stopped clocks correct twice a day (ho ho), they're only really wrong for the half hour or so until it's obvious that they must be wrong: and then only for people who are actually relying on them.

What this is about is not inaccuracy. As Alfie of the Stopped Clocks site says, they are a sign of disconnect from and loss of our past. This is about the decline of the public realm: on the part not only of the owners of the clocks, but also of the rest of us, who no longer lift our eyes up to the turrets and cupolas of old-fashioned civic pride.

It's not just that we are no longer without timepieces of our own; time itself is more flexible, elastic and personal for more people. The measurement of time was shared when what it regulated was shared: factory shifts, church services, early closing day, chucking-out time, the six o'clock or nine o'clock news, the big picture, the must-see TV programme. Now, this is all so adjustable to individual needs and wants - "just in time", indeed - that time itself has become privatised: like the railways, whose needs were what "nationalised" time in the first place.

Enough sententiousness: how about this for a clock?

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Did I hear aright?

The US Ambassador, Robert Tuttle, in a radio interview this morning on the Government's request for the release of non-citizen residents of the UK from Guantanamo, appeared (to me) graciously to concede that they would not be subject to ill-treatment in the UK.

What a gratifying vote of confidence. And how reassuring that the welfare of the people held there is in the forefront of US thinking.

I note, though, that that quote wasn't reproduced in the BBC website's news report.

Sunday 5 August 2007

Mavericks for Mayor!

What is it about the London Mayoralty that seems to make it the perfect target for apparent mavericks?

Livingstone won it against the Labour Party (and having rejoined them is still a bit semi-detached), Boris Johnson (though by no means a certainty for the Tory nomination) is a standing embarrassment to his party, and now Brian Paddick is being heavily touted for the Lib Dem nomination.

He's an interesting proposition, especially in contrast to both Livingstone and Johnson: I'm no position to judge whether his willingness to speak truth to power is a foolhardy transparency or publicity-hunting, and I'd be worried if this turned out to be all about a private row within the Met; but his approach to difficult questions certainly appears more thoughtful than either Livingstone or Johnson, and more honest than at least one of them.

I wonder, though, whether he could possibly have what it takes for such a strange job. On the one hand, the Mayor has the largest single direct electoral mandate in the UK; on the other, the Mayor doesn't have that much direct executive power, just a share in some power over some local services (the big exceptions being road traffic management and the buses). For the job to work, you have to be good at knocking heads together, twisting arms and charming the pants off a very wide range of people and agencies who do have the executive power: and at persuading them that your idea was what they were thinking of all along.

That much may be common to most political processes, but it says something that, clearly, the Mayoralty just doesn't seem to fit into the conventional political career ladder: most people already in local government in the London boroughs don't have the political profile, most people who are already MPs probably see it as a side-show.

That can only be a good thing if it opens up conventional thinking and expectations about the political process: but forcing potential office-holders to be tested and tried in the boring details of government is the strength of our present system. The individualist outsider, surfing in on the wave of "None of the above", hasn't always been a great advertisement for the US system: but then, that's no doubt why the Mayoralty has been designed the way it has.