Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Back at work..

(actually, I'm beginning to think of it more as a day centre)... today's canteen menu offered us "Fussily pasta": and they lived up to it.

While you make up your own jokes, I'm posting a couple of photos I took yesterday. The first was in a charity shop window (bear in mind, this is in Notting Hill, where the charity shops stock designers, and the clientele quite possibly speak of nothing but karma and the like):

and this was on a house in Portobello Road:

Monday 25 May 2009

Just at the moment, the BBC is running a poetry season, across seemingly all of its outlets, with documentaries, readings and participatory events all round, and some striking promotional trailers on TV, where TV faces you might not necessarily associate with poetry respond to some everyday situation with a poem. Unfortunately, the best of these don't appear in the BBC's own Youtube videos, so you'll have to take my word for it that somehow it works when the presenter in the video below, out on a shopping trip and asked what she'd like for her birthday, launches into this, or this comedian, asked for directions, gives the first verse of this.

One thing I have been struck by is that poets don't always seem to be the best readers of their own work. Over the last couple of weeks of programmes, I've noticed a tendency to adopt an oddly incantatory "poetry voice" which favours a sing-song rhythm that seems to swamp the sense of the words (even when the poet has perfect diction, which - naming no names - isn't often the case). I much prefer readings by people trained to communicate what they've understood from a poem:

Saturday 23 May 2009

Of the making of books, there is no end..

Slightly befuddled by today's sunshine, I found myself, a little like the solitary bee who's been visiting my window-boxes, bumbling around town, and as the bee is drawn to my flowers, so I am drawn (despite the couple of dozen accumulated books on my "to read" pile) into the shops to dip into more and more books I will probably never have time to read.

What is more, Blackwells on the Charing Cross Road now has a print-on-demand machine. I can see the attraction (particularly for somewhere out of the way, without space for a big stock and facing high delivery charges), especially if the necessary deals have been made for access to otherwise out of print material.

It all comes down to the balance of price, convenience and quality. I could only see on display the prices for self-publishing (£15 plus £5 a copy: not a lot for anyone who might otherwise be tempted by a vanity press, but if that's the price for something from an archive, perhaps quite a lot). As for quality, the covers of the samples on display had a uniformly shiny photocopy quality (or looked like bound proofs with rough-and-ready covers); on the other hand, the paper seemed to be better quality than the average paperback. Then again, the text of some of the reprinted classics (for example, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, as if one couldn't already get cheap editions of it all over the place) had, at the bottom of every page, a credit to the Google digitisation project: intrusively large and in their house font and style, irrespective of what the rest of the page looked like. I wonder what Jane Austen would have made of that?

Friday 22 May 2009

Seen from my window..


With a long weekend coming up, what to do? Shall I go to the Tate Modern to play, or to join the Big Scream? Since it's just been trailed on the TV evening news, I rather suspect there will be a bit of a crowd, so maybe not. There's some ironing to do, after all.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Maggie and Dennis*

*(no, not her husband)

I was almost forgetting, I went to see the Cartoon Museum last weekend.

It's a small space in Bloomsbury. Sadly, it doesn't display what you might call a comprehensive collection, though it has a research library of several thousand images.

On the ground floor there's an overview of the history of caricaturing from the eighteenth century onwards, with some built examples of Heath Robinson machines. At the moment, there's a special exhibition on cartoonists' views of Margaret Thatcher - both for and against. Strange to look at the ups and downs of her public image as though it was ancient history, and surprising to view it so dispassionately.

Upstairs, there's an even smaller space devoted to comics in barely a dozen display cabinets (as well as a room for visiting school parties to draw their own comic strips). Not a sign of the French worship of the "bande dessinee", but some moments of nostalgia as I revisited Korky the Cat, the Bash Street Kids - and (who else) Dennis the Menace (no, not the American one).

Not to mention some fine examples of the oeuvre of Donald McGill.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Dahn the Elephant

I work at Elephant and Castle. On hearing that, any Londoner will probably emit a small and uncertain sound from a face halfway between a smile and a grimace. It's known as a series of large traffic junctions surrounding a 70s era shopping centre that's the nearest I've seen to the department store I visited in Prague not long after the end of communism (but with a cracking cheapo household shop).

So you can understand why tonight's TV news programmes were more than slightly (even incredulously) agog to report that current ambitious redevelopment plans have been endorsed as an example to the world by Bill Clinton, and his vague promise to visit (mind you, that was only a way of avoiding a question about his attitude to Boris Johnson).

Sunday 17 May 2009

Eurovision again

I seem to remember anticipating that this year's Eurovision entries would feature various anguished young men with bare midriffs. Somehow it looked as though obvious attempts to replicate previous winning formulas weren't that many, and didn't get very far either. Ukrainians flashing flesh? Romanian party girls mashing-up Balkan dances? A soulful Bosnian looking like a footnote in Krafft Ebing with an incomprehensible ballad? A plea for peace? Out of luck, all of them.

Which is not to say there weren't some distinctly familiar sounds: I didn't mind (for nostalgic reasons) Estonia's partial reprise of Reach Out, while Germany seemed to be trying to do a Tom Jones-style remake of Minnie the Moocher without Tom Jones's macho credentials, despite importing Dita von Teese, who wandered around the stage as though she'd forgotten what she was looking for (most of her clothes).

Was it a new trend to re-import some more or less traditional ethnic element? Not just Moldovan hora dancers leaping around like sugar-crazed toddlers, or Armenia's drumming and elaborate costumes: the Norwegian winning song had a touch of antique fiddle-playing too (I leave it to you to make up your own jokes about antique fiddling).

Saturday 16 May 2009


I may or may not have some thoughts on the Eurovision Song Contest (on first impression, the "Oh dear" and "What the..??" quotients seemed rather low this year). But one thing that struck me was the irritation factor of all the "sincere emotion" quirks, the pants and puffs around every distorted warbling vowel. Our own dear contestant seemed particularly prone to it: "Ha-hah'll show you what Ah'm mayeyade ahv" and so on: but I thought I noticed some oddly American vowels in Patricia Kaas's French accent too (and is such extra aspiration on a "t" quite the thing in French? I'm sure she didn't do that in her earlier years..)

Friday 15 May 2009

Free lobelias!

No, not another MP's expenses story: a neighbour was offering around a spare tray of lobelias. Last year, I had some that did me proud all summer long.

But after this spring's bout of instant gardening at Columbia Road, I don't think there's room for anything more:

Saturday 9 May 2009

The Illustrious is still with us. Wandering around Greenwich on Saturday afternoon, I found the Navy on display in - where else - the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, with children allowed to sit at the controls of a helicopter, suitably heroic-looking role models (though I'm not sure about having a video screen in the chest of a giant plywood Wren - and would you fancy an inflatable Marine?), and helicopters going through anti-pirate and air-sea rescue manoeuvres on the river.

And in the evening, I went to an old friend's song recital on the other side of London - it's all bread and circuses here.

Thursday 7 May 2009


From time to time every summer, the mooring points between where I live and Greenwich are occupied by a visiting ship. Often it's a small-ish cruise liner, but occasionally it's one of our own naval ships. This week it's the Illustrious, an aircraft carrier with a special relationship with the City of London. As you might expect, it comes with an impressive array of helicopters and Harriers. Today must have been a special bigwigs visit day, because the helicopters have been whizzing around, and this evening they must have been throwing a party, because the rest of us have been treated to one of my favourite treats, a firework display, and it was spectacularly loud and bright - more than I would usually expect to see from the bedroom window. Mind you, I have to wonder whether any of my taxes has been paying for it - or may be the City still had a bit of spare cash left?

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Seen in Bermondsey

As I pass the junction with Morocco Street, part of the fashionably boho enclave, a gleaming Jaguar XK140 in British Racing Green throbs gently, the epitome of early James Bond, And-All-Because-The-Lady-Loves-Milk-Tray power, suavity and sophistication.

And at the wheel, beaming in ear-to-ear self-satisfaction, the spitting image of Alfed E. Neumann

Saturday 2 May 2009

Some boats, a band and morris dancers beneath the motorway

At last, a first breath of the summer to come, so where else to go but by some water to look at some boats.

The Inland Waterways Association's Canalway Cavalcade is a sort of village fête for narrowboat owners and suppliers. Little Venice and the surrounding canals were packed with narrowboats, decked out with flags, and several boats in a special procession (should one call it a drift-past?) of boats decorated in varying degrees of whimsy. Stalls along the edge of the basin sold canal-related books and tea-towels, "roses and castles" knick-knacks, fudge, olives, herbs and the kind of clothes and accessories you can see in arts and crafts markets.

I didn't see a lot of heavy-duty boat supply stands: when I think back to the time my father tried to run a cabin-cruiser on the Thames (we still recall The Day Dad Dropped the Elsan), it seemed to be all about gear-boxes and swearing in the bilges, but not here. True to the atmosphere of bunting and frolic, a jazz band played, there was ice-cream, beer and sausages, and the only space for the morris dancers was under the Westway: