Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 30 November 2008

Dank and dreary..

As must be obvious, I really haven't found much to write about recently. It's that time of year. And though there are plenty of things to see and do in London, as at any time of year, a couple of weekends of wretched weather have combined with the kind of bad posture while doing necessary odd jobs that seems to seize up my back muscles. So a brief sciatical totter to the City Farm café and back was the sum total of this weekend's outings.

The only consolation to Sunday afternoons at this time of year is drawing the curtains to cocoon with something toasted and a detective story, but otherwise:

No sun, no moon!
No morn, no noon!
No dawn, no dusk, no proper time of day,

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -

Thursday 27 November 2008

Dear Mr Tourist..

I know there's a lot to learn about London, and especially the Tower and Tower Bridge, but if you're walking across the bridge approach road in the gloom of the evening rush hour, do you think you could actually take your nose out of the guide-book before stepping into the road in front of me? I wouldn't want you to get a bad impression of Britain, but I don't honestly feel inclined to apologise for swearing at you.....

Monday 24 November 2008


I tend to screen out most TV adverts, especially those for the Christmas market (those bizarre perfume ads!) and compilation records - and above all compilation records for the Christmas market.

But tonight I couldn't help noticing that one of this year's offerings of quasi-religious sentimentality - according to Morrison's - includes Lesley Garrett singing about that well-known Scotsman, Angus Dei.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Lolling idly....

... in front of QI last night, it struck me that in almost all panel games and comedy quizzes of this kind, on radio or TV, there is only ever one woman "contestant". Not only QI, but The News Quiz/Have I Got News For You, Just A Minute, Never Mind the Buzzcocks (so it's not just the BBC), whatever.

I'm sure that in the prim and conservative 1950s, programmes like Twenty Questions and What's My Line routinely had two men and two women taking part.

Is this something to do with a change in the perceived audience? But doesn't that become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Wednesday 19 November 2008

And relax...

The cycle path along Cable Street is unbelievably bumpy by comparison with the road surface: but this morning it allowed me to sail past a caterpillar-tracked earth-mover trundling slowly along - the driver blissfully stretching with his hands clasped behind his head......

Saturday 15 November 2008

At last!

I've spent the afternoon playing with my Winkku*.

Since it's an extension to be added on to one end of the handlebars, it's a bit inclined to wobble on its own, which means the rear-view mirror doesn't always give the clearest picture. Of course, that might be because I'm currently using the strap-on** - I'll wait to see if it's any better if I use the version that has to be actually inserted*** into the handlebar.

The lights are bright. From the rider's viewpoint the indicator doesn't seem so, but it would be different from the perspective of a following car-driver. I'm not sure if it makes a great deal of difference to how drivers respond: they seem to have been giving me a wide berth anyway, for whatever reason. I'm not sure I trust it enough to do without hand-signalling for a right turn, just yet, at least; but it's handy that it also makes an extra set of front and rear lights.

*Oh do stop sniggering.
**Look, I won't tell you again.
***Oh for heaven's sake...

Thursday 13 November 2008

Home thoughts

Dear me, isn't it amazing how quickly one forgets a trip away once the normal daily habits of home are picked up again?

I managed to get in a quick look at the free exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville on Jacques Prévert; to do it justice would need a couple of hours, there are so many film clips and examples of all the different art forms he tried (some fascinating collages, for example). Ah well, it's on till February, so I might get another chance.

The train trip home gave me an opportunity to listen to a couple of records I'd got round to buying in Paris. I can't remember how I came to hear about the Gotan Project, though I soon found I recognised one of their pieces, as I think would a lot of people. They perform tango music (tango/gotan - geddit?) with various bits of additional electronic trickery: FNAC has them filed under electronic music, but it's the hypnotic melancholy of the tango music that gets me. What really intrigues me is trying to imagine how anyone came to think the tension, the attraction/repulsion, domination/submission, love and hate, the sheer passion of tango the perfect music to sell.... dishwashing tablets:

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Armistice Day, 2008Armistice Day, a public holiday in France. I've said all I want to say on the subject, and since it was a beautiful day and the museums I had it in mind to visit were closed today, I decided to take a bike and explore Auteuil, passing the Arc de Triomphe en route to see if there was anything happening. The main national event of this 90th anniversary was a ceremony combining commemoration and (since France is currently presiding over the EU) reconciliation at the vast cemetery at Douaumont near Verdun, so the only sign I saw today was a blaring police escort for what looked like the Australian Ambassador.

Facade, AuteuilAuteuil retains something of the air of the village it once was, attracting litterati away from the smoky, dirty city in the 18th century - there are traces of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams here. Now it is an upmarket residential area, with most of my guidebook's interest focussed on architectural details, with examples from Guimaud (who designed the iconic Metro entrances) as well as some extraordinary 1920s flights of fancy, and some (currently inaccessible for repairs) Le Corbusier.

But other things caught my eye as well:

- a family making the most of a no doubt rare midweek opportunity for papa to take the children to buy the day's baguette (baguette safely stowed across the hood of the buggy; but the toddler, allowed to stand on the back axle, surreptitiously nibbling at it)

- an ornate but (I suspect) futile sign forbidding people to play ball games against the wall of the church

- an interesting opportunity for deconstructing a trade name

- that apparently in France there aren't so much beauty parlours (too frivolous?) or clinics (too medical?) as Instituts de Beauté: serious enough to be reassuring without being forbidding, perhaps

- more and more museums: in the immediate vicinity there's a Balzac museum and the museum of Radio France, and on the way back to the centre, I spotted a sign for a Musée de Vin (on rue des Eaux, ha ha ha), and near les Halles there's also a dolls museum.

And in the evening, I actually went out to dinner with some other people (this is rare for me), with whom I'd been sharing facts and opinions on an internet messageboard for years, and a very pleasant meal it was too.

Monday 10 November 2008

Till I dropped...

A grey and drizzly day, and a Monday, when most of the museums are closed. My exchange partner had mentioned that one of the buses from here goes all the way south of the river to near the Bon Marché department store. I'm not normally one for drifting round the shops for the sake of it (I make an exception for bookshops and the DIY basement at BHV, which is full of interesting examples of how the French do household things), but on a morning like this, doing the old lady thing seemed to be a sensible option.

The nearest bus stop is at the other end of the Rue de Babylone, which belies its name to be about as genteel as you could imagine, offering a glimpse of an interesting courtyard or two.

Bon MarchéArriving at Bon Marché, I saw why my guidebook says it's not only the oldest department store, it's considered the most chic. Even the tea-towels cost €16.50. Passing through the lighting department, I was struck (almost literally, it was hanging so low) by an Italian designer's sprightly take on a chandelier, ready-wrapped in a fibreglass web for that "Voilà! Instant Miss Havisham!" look - a snip at only €2910 (must be a bugger to dust). But the Christmas tree decorations department glittered, and in haberdashery you could probably find any sort of button you liked. I did buy a book (what else - and of course it's one of the season's priwewinners, though I might not get round to reading it till Easter, knowing me), and a coffee and a very nice cake in the basement café, but on the whole I find the world of people who fall for the glitz (or worse still, take it for granted) stifling.

Coming out, the narrow passage between road works was blocked by two young firemen inviting donations for their calendar. How could I refuse? It is of course the season - I've just been interrupted by a knock at the door by a representative of the binmen and roadsweepers, but I said to call back when my exchange partner returns. I always used to say you know you're getting on, not when the policemen look young, and not when they start calling you "Sir", but when you expect that as your proper due; but it was much more disconcerting that these firemen looked to be about 16.

As it happens, I know just the person it'd be a handy gift for, but now I needed a postal tube to keep it in good order. None for sale in the post office; the stationery shop they recommended only had them about four sizes too big. So I thought I'd look in BHV, since I was planning to visit the (free) exhibition on Jacques Prévert at the Hotel de Ville, which was open today. No, only huge ones there too, and a huge queue for the exhibition too. I ended up walking all the way to the Pompidou centre thinking that somewhere round there would have a better choice: no luck, huge is clearly this season's must-have (or rather, can't have anything else).

No, I'm not much of a shopper - except for the chocolate eclair I now felt entitled to.

Sunday 9 November 2008


This morning I finally worked out which bit of indistinguishable black plastic touchpad on my exchange partner's computer actually makes it go (well, I've never used one before). So instead of cursing Acer, TeaTimer (which uses a lot memory at some moments) and Firefox, I spent the morning catching up on tidying my photos, video and posts so far. Perhaps I'm moving into the phase of needing things clearly labelled, like the "Drink me" and "Eat me" labels in Alice. Now there's a novel theory: was Carroll writing Alice not for a little girl but for a demented elderly relative?

I pootled down to the Marais on a bike, had terrible trouble finding free Velib spaces to park it and consequently was in no mood to take photos or do anything worth writing about.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Porte St Denis to Montmartre

As the sun was shining this morning, I followed a walk suggested on (of all places) the French railways website.

Starting at the Porte St Denis (a proto- Arc de Triomphe from Louis XIV's time, featuring this distinctly unmartial lion), the walk starts with some of the less swish "passages": Passage Brady, famous for Indian restaurants, the Passage de l'Industrie (where the industry seeme to be hairdressing supplies, and if ever I'm in need of a wig, I'll know where to come, as this is Syrup City). Doubling back along the rue Château d'Eau, the route passes salons that use all that equipment, with a gathering of Afro-Caribbean girls all making that Saturday do a social highlight.

Rue d'AbbevilleOn past this saucy-looking frontage on rue d'Abbeville, past Tati at Barbès-Rochechouart, and up the hill towards Montmartre.

Skirting Sacré-Coeur and the "instant heritage" demonstration vineyard of the Clos Montmartre, the route passes the Musée de Montmartre, currently featuring an exhibition on the life and work of Jean Marais. I had no idea he became an action hero later in his life, as well as a serious classical actor - and an art potter to boot.

Sun or no sun, a definite chill in the air encouraged a return to the flat for a welcome cup of tea, but climbing down towards the metro station, I stopped for an attempt at an atmospheric black and white photo that quickly turned into a "Don't Look Now" moment. Passing the funicular station, I came across an exuberant medical students' band, Les Plaies Mobiles:

Friday 7 November 2008

Ouf! Part Deux

Don't panic, it's an advertBarely had I got back from my jaunt to Paris in August when I received a proposal for another home exchange, from someone else in Paris, this time as far to the north-west as I was to the north-east last time.

So here I am in a sixth-floor flat in a solid 1920s block (complete with wardrobe-sized lift) at the Porte de Champerret.

Ste OdileIt's just up the road from the most extraordinary church - Ste Odile, an Art Deco frontage in vaguely Dutch-looking brick, with Byyzantine domes and a Ghormenghast tower topped with a patriotic cockerel. If my memory's correct, the 1920s was a time of conservative re-assertion in France, not least in the position and status of the Catholic Church: and it shows.

I was up at 5am to be sure of getting the train this morning, and it's starting to catch up with me. Which is why I'm in a mood to rant about coffee culture. I've been peeved for years about people taking an age to get their cappuccinos and fancy skinny frappé latte mochaccino with a caramel shot or whatever, when all I want is a plain black coffee. This afternoon, a new bugbear: a modish takeaway deli-café which handed me a cartridge (in one of those adult-proof foil wrappings) and pointed me to a sleek machine in the corner: so sleek, so beautifully designed and engineered that there was not the slightest indication of how or where to insert the cartridge. I was on the point of suggesting somewhere to the people behind the counter when they took pity and explained how to find the magic lever and which way round to put the cartridge. In which time, of course, they could probably have served an office party's worth of cappuccinos.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Welcome back, America!

My facetious query about Obama's prospects turned out to be resoundingly inept (there might be a connection with my having spent far too many years beavering away for the party that can never quite).

This looks at one level like our 1997 election: a predictable and predicted landslide against a discredited and exhausted government, where the winning campaign was predicated on a considerable amount of caution and dampening down of expectations. At another, it's more like our 1945: a wholesale rejection of the conventional thinking of decades, even generations, with voters fully conscious of how historic a shift they were creating.

I'm in the middle of reading his early book about his search for identity. I'm not bothering with his campaign-y book, since manifestos are a recipe for disappointment, and the really interesting thing about any politician is what they will do when confronted with the unexpected and unhoped for, the kind of thing you don't want to mention in manifestoes.

So far, I'm getting a strong sense of someone having to invent himself in a way most people don't have to: something he might have in common with Tony Blair, who might not have had to, but certainly did, invent himself. I just hope Obama's obvious ability to connect isn't just Blair's ability to make himself a receptacle for people's hopes. And thank goodness he has verbs in his sentences.

Monday 3 November 2008


Champagne corks as handlebar end-stops.

Seen outside (where else?) Waitrose.