Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 28 November 2009


In the hardware and household shop, among the novelty items, tucked in beside the granny race tracks, a box of wind-up condiment shakers, with the slogan: "Passing the salt and pepper has never been so much fun!!!!"

Tuesday 24 November 2009

What happens to electoral registers may seem a very dull subject. But did you know the "edited register" (the basic names and addresses, and the electoral ward they're in) has for ten years been on sale to all and sundry to use as they wish?

Last summer, a review for the Ministry of Justice made a firm recommendation that this should stop. Now the Government has put out a consultation - mainly, it seems, aimed at the commercial and charity marketing interests who would be affected - asking for opinions about what should happen.

Well, I've had my say and sent it in.

I may have been less than sympathetic to the idea that direct marketing people would have to set up and maintain their own registers (the word "Tough!" may have slipped in there somewhere).

I may not have shrunk from expressing outrage: Tunbridge Wells can be proud of me.

You may have your own opinions. But if you don't express them now, who knows what they might let the moneybags get away with?

Saturday 14 November 2009

Who'd have thought soft furnishings could cause such homicidal rage?

Strictly speaking, it was the hardware attached. I've never been that fond of the curtain poles I inherited, and recently both the rings and the fixings have been looking increasingly precarious. The time has come for something shiny and new.

I had tested to see what sort of wall plugs I might need, honestly. What I didn't realise was that the builders of this flat had been sneakily inconsistent: at one place there might (as I'd found) be a void between the wall surface and whatever lintel they'd put in, but (as I had not found before today) at another there'd be none. All I could do was drill a hole roughly where I needed it, and only then work out how to fix a screw into it. It all served to prove the first rule of DIY: whatever you need (especially when you need it right now, before everything falls down) is still in the hardware shop - and the only really well-stocked one near here is two bus rides away.

But at last I have managed to ensure a modicum of privacy at, at least, the bedroom window. One of the brackets seems already to be plotting a bid for freedom, but sufficient unto the day, and all that. As I relax a little, I can pass on the observation that, if you should see someone in the street muttering darkly to themselves about the injustice of the world of curtains and hardware, there might be some semi-rational explanation.

These things, as my mother used to say, are sent to try us, and worse things happen at sea. Judging by the violently gusty winds and squalls of rain we've had today, the latter's all too evidently true. A night for listening to the Shipping Forecast in one's own cocoon (especially now that I can close the curtains), and particularly to the soothing midnight play-out music:

Saturday 7 November 2009

Conversation piece

Cycling over Tower Bridge needs concentration, even more than on other roads. Going to work or coming home, I need to bear over to the right as I come off the bridge - so relative pace and position in the traffic lanes need to be thought out. To add a complication, there's a nasty pot-hole on the northbound lane that needs to be avoided.

So I was in no mood to be distracted by some indistinct shouting from a car to my right. It's not unheard of, whether it be someone trying to share his (it's usually his) interesting variations on motorists' vernacular for cyclists, or someone asking for directions (yes, they will do it even at some speed, and even leaning right across to the passenger-side window). But I ignored it, until I heard the word "gadget".

Then the penny dropped. He wanted to talk about my Winkku.

I couldn't make out any more, as he continued to bellow indistinctly, keeping pace alongside me, so I just made non-committal noises, until the point where he really had to decide which lane he was in, and he drew ahead to stop in the queue at the lights. I rather ostentatiously put on my indicator as I moved to the right and pulled up behind him.

He poked his head out of the driver-side window and shouted "What happens when you want to turn left?"

But the lights changed and he did not stay for an answer.

Monday 2 November 2009


Not the most likely venue for an artwork, you might think; one of London's little seen spaces, the old Kingsway tram tunnel. Here, once upon a time, trams rattled between the Embankment and the top of Kingsway.

Ever since the trams were withdrawn in 1952, the space has been closed off to the public, part used for an underpass for cars, part set up for a control room for emergencies like the Great London Flood that we're still waiting for, part leading to mysterious offices for "other government functions". Of the rest, what isn't simply used for storing stuff has served for film sets, but most of us only know of the tunnel by reputation and odd glimpses through littered gratings and over the walls of the old entrance way.

So there's been a lot of interest in the opportunity to see it offered by Conrad Shawcross's Chord, an installation that takes advantage of the long straight tunnel.

Entering down the surprisingly steep slope (imagine how the tram wheels must have squealed as they strained their way up), I was struck by the height and angularity of the tunnel. This isn't a tube, it's a straight cut down, made all the deeper for double-decker trams. We were ushered past still-surviving elements of the old tramway station: a narrow central platform and the kind of steep stairs that wouldn't pass a health and safety inspection nowadays, but the torn, stained and flapping station signs and maps on the wall are simply film props.

Skirting puddles and cables, we went on into the gloom, and came to two large contraptions, a good 4-5 metres high, set on a rack-and-pinion rail track. Three arms, each with three branches, and each of these with three sets of six spools of thick thread, each of a different colour (but related to the other five in the set). All these elements rotate independently, driven by intricate cogs from a single, modestly small, motor on each machine. Starting 10 metres apart, the machines move slowly apart, making a rope at a rate of 5cm an hour. After three days, the machines move back together and the process starts again.

Though the classically-minded might think of Ariadne, she made her thread at home (sensible girl) and for a labyrinth, not a straight tunnel. But here the floodlighting from the sides, keeping pace with the machines and the rope as they move, accentuated the gloom on the farther side. One might fancy that anything could be lurking in the dark, beyond the heaps of indeterminate shapes and the mysterious closed-off world of troglodytic securocrats. Appropriately perhaps, the machines let out an eery wail, like a modern jazz trumpet in a film noir soundtrack - or the squeal of a ghost tram grinding around a curve.

The enthusiasts for forgotten heritage, weeping concrete and the like had been flashing away with the cameras; we were asked not to photograph the artwork, but this doesn't seem to have been a universal rule, so you can get a better idea from these photos, or these.

It takes less than half an hour, it seems, to contemplate the interchangeability and limitations of time and space; all too soon, we were being ushered up the surprisingly steep slope back to the street (imagine the noise of trams labouring up this!).

One last fact: when I asked the guide what the material for the rope was, he said the only material available in a sufficient range of colours for all those spools was "anorak cord".