Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 25 September 2010

More excitement on the river

Yet another unexpected sight on the way to the shops on a Saturday morning - here, what looked like a swanmaster's barge from the more genteel part of the river.

All part of the preparations for the Great River Race, in which boats of all shapes and sizes (as long as they're human-powered) are rowed or paddled 21 miles between us and Richmond, clear on the other side of London.

Until recently, it was our teatime that was punctuated with the sounds of a procession of tiring crews being urged on down that last unforgiving mile, and the signal gun marking the finish opposite Greenwich. But now they prefer to go with the rising tide in the other direction, so it was the morning that saw our local pier unusually busy with waiting safety boats, while another small flotilla of them roared excitedly down to Greenwich.

Most of the Isle of Dogs is marshy and low-lying ground and needs the protection of its high embankments, but there are a few spots where slipways remain. At one, normally deserted but for the recycling bins, crowds of people were getting ready to launch. Huge flags and fancy dress were the order of the day for many as the river filled up in the wait for the starting gun.

An hour or two later, the last of the temporary pontoons and Portaloos were trucked away and the slipway returned to its normal deserted, flotsam-strewn peace, with not a sign of its brief time as, well, a hive of activity:

Saturday 18 September 2010

Fourth Plinth time again..

Passing St Martin in the Fields the other day, I noticed that the Crypt is hosting an exhibition and consultation (until the end of October) on the next occupants of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.

There are some ideas here I just don't get (a Battenberg cake made out of bricks? A giant blue cockerel, and the artist's description makes no reference to its associations with France - in Trafalgar Square?). The giant organ that's also a cash machine would be quite amusing at the Royal Exchange (by the Bank of England), or round the back of St Paul's, but is meaningless in Trafalgar Square.

So that leaves three contenders with some sort of relevance to the site. One at least allows for the fact that most people will see it from underneath - an outline of Britain with an idealised mountainscape on top; but generic mountains in a country that isn't very Alpine surrounded by buildings made from stone quarried mostly by the sea....?

The other two play with the images of military leaders all around the Square. A Victorian general submerged in other cultures' fetish symbols is a colourful comment on the sternly triumphant statues all around, but the idea looks very much like a continuation of the current model of HMS Victory with sails made of African cloth. Not that there's anything wrong in that, but perhaps it's time for a shift of emphasis. The golden child on a rocking-horse makes a striking and thought-provoking contrast - but something about it looks indefinably clumsy to me. What do you think?

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Thames Festival

Not the most obvious thing one expects to see on the way to the supermarket, but last weekend was the Thames Festival, and there was plenty to see on and along the river, all the way from Tower Bridge to Waterloo Bridge.

Music, entertainments, stalls for arts, crafts and worthy causes (especially related to the river and the environment) were all on tap. I learnt (and immediately forgot) how to distinguish a reef knot from a thief knot, and all about the huge super-sewer tunnel to be built under the river (I thought that was well in hand ages ago, but apparently still not).

The river parade, such as it was, seemed a bit thin, though no doubt it would have been more interesting if I'd been near the commentary point. A few siren blasts and a fire boat, and it seemed to be gone. But Tower Bridge obligingly opened for a sailing barge, and later, for no apparent reason, a sturdy-looking launch carried some energetic bellringers down the river, so there was something to see actually on the water.

On land, I wanted to see the Hot Club of Belleville, who do 20s and 30s numbers in Reinhardt/Grappelli style, only with a tuba and a pretty lady violinist who occasionally plays a saw. Also on hand were the London Bulgarian Choir, who got people dancing with them, clog and morris dancing at Hay's Galleria, and hula-hoops and swing dancing outside Tate Modern.

Once again, Southwark Bridge was closed for the Feast on the Bridge. As well as the many and varied food stalls to buy your feast from, there was a rural theme. Somewhat surreally, every lamp-post was decorated with a scarecrow, there was a thatching demonstration and corn-dolly making (or you could make yourself a fruity hat if you preferred), and an irruption from a Romanian band giving out gingerbread men.

Those who needed further refreshment could get a green coconut opened for them to drink the water, and those who needed more excitement could try the helter-skelter with a view of St Paul's.

I'd chosen something more restful: a suitably nautical recital on a Thames sailing barge; but here are some more impressions of the afternoon:

Tuesday 7 September 2010

As September gathers pace, so does the sequence of public events in London. This year's vintage Proms season draws to its close next weekend, which is also the Thames Festival, with the Feast on the Bridge, then the Open House Weekend, and the Great River Race at the end of the month. I've posted about most of those before: it's hard to find something new to say about them (though I have found something unusual to do connected with the Thames Festival - watch this space!).

So too with last Sunday's Skyride (what used to be called the London Freewheel and now thoroughly Murdoch-branded, boo! hiss!). I was riding into town that way anyway, and thought I might as well tag along, though not expecting to see anything to add to the last time I posted about it, I'd forgotten to take my camera. As it happens, at least at the time I was riding, there seemed to be thousands more cyclists than in previous years.

Along Tower Hill, there was a striking contrast of future and past. On one side, an almost solid jam of cyclists waited patiently for the chance to inch forward towards the Embankment. On the other, complete with band and banners flying, the British Legion and Merchant Navy Association marched in the opposite direction to the Merchant Navy Memorial for a commemoration.

Friday 3 September 2010

Shopping with a difference

One of the incidental pleasures of travelling abroad is the - sometimes indefinable - differences in quite mundane aspects of daily life, such as shopping. In the Netherlands, HEMA strikes me as much more stylish for a cheap-and-cheerful household store than its erstwhile UK equivalent (which may be one of the reasons why Woolworth's went out of business).

As witness their online shop: