Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 24 December 2011

A rather quieter reminder of snow: some photos of last year's white Christmas with a bell-like version of something seasonable, by an uncharacteristically restrained (and all the better for it) Liszt:

Friday 23 December 2011

Just to make sure of a little show of snow this Christmas, here's a video card from a remote Inuit village in Alaska (it was all the rage some time ago, but I've only recently become aware of it - and yes, they have been told about the apostrophes):

Thursday 15 December 2011

It's no good: there just doesn't seem to be a way of shaking off the idea that, whatever I'm doing, I ought to be doing something else. Never mind the reminders in my phone diary (what? use it to talk to people? how very last century), there's a nagging feeling that there is something else, planned or promised, that I've somehow forgotten to do, and that there will shortly be some sort of "Oh heck!" moment, or a puzzled "Where are you?" phone call. Or worse.

Of course, there are always odd chores awaiting the acquisition of A Round Tuit, things that could be a bit cleaner or tidier or neater, the cupboard that threatens to brain me with an avalanche of clutter, the buttons that look a bit loose, the accumulation of half-read magazines and books, not to mention the computer that's running out of memory (dare I risk deleting stuff off it and relying on the external hard drive?).

But those I know about; and almost everything Christmas-related is sorted out. This is something much more nebulous: a common feeling when I was a middle manager, and you never knew what Damn-fool Wizard Wheeze from top management, or crass error from an underling, might land in the in-tray - but now, when there's no particular reason to do any particular thing on a particular day?

Perhaps I just don't have enough to do.

Thursday 1 December 2011

More old friends

The regular return of an old friend featured in a post last Easter.

Now that the seasons have turned again, it's the Christmas cactus that has put out its improbably neon-coloured flowers, as it has done without any special attention for decades, first in my parents' house, now with me. The container it's in is also a hand-me-down, probably from a generation further back: in my memory, that deep, rich blue was always somewhere in the background or a corner of the view.

Time for it to take centre stage, for a change.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

It being St Andrew's Day, today is the time to dust off one's distant Scottish ancestry. In the true spirit of parsimony (and soft Southern laziness), I offer you someone else's creations to mark the day.

From the symphonic (I hear pre-echoes of Sibelius in this, but maybe that's just me):

to the traditional (at least for Gaelic-speakers, which I am not) - the band is Capercaillie, the singer Karen Matheson, and to mark the Auld Alliance, the photos are taken by some really skillful French people (how come it never rains in other people's photos?):

Monday 28 November 2011

Autumn colour (2)

No self-respecting bird has any excuse for missing the invitation of these blazing red berries. I assume we can expect to see plenty of seedlings from this tree in the future.

Whether it's a measure of the late warmth we've been having, I don't know, but the tree's immediate neighbour, a ceanothus which flowers profusely for a couple of weeks in May, seems to have decided to compete, however feebly, with a few tufts of blue flower:

Sometimes autumn can be just too abundant:

Sunday 27 November 2011

Perhaps she didn't intend to comment on the weather, but as I came out of Canary Wharf underground station into this afternoon's cloudless sky and balmy sunshine, the perky jazz singer busking by the escalators swung into Summertime. The nip in the breeze soon belied her; though there's usually a fair breeze swirling around there, today it was strong enough to set pages of a dropped newspaper performing aerobatics way into the air, indeed it had woken me overnight.

As it happens, my explorations of old photo negatives have turned up the aftermath of another windy night. At the time, I didn't notice more than that what turned out to be the Great Hurricane of October 1987 was a bit loud. Perhaps the unusual warmth in the late evening air beforehand should have been a warning; but it wasn't till the light-switch didn't work the next morning that it registered with me. My battery-powered radio told me there were no trains or underground, but I thought I ought at least try to get into work. There were buses running, on a route that got somewhere near (after the bus had inched its way around fallen trees and fire engines). Needless to say, hardly anyone else had made it in, nor were the phones working, or the power for the limited word-processing machines of the time (a computer all to oneself? on every individual desk? are you mad?), or indeed the lights. So we kept up a token presence in case anyone came to ask us anything, and went home before it got too dark.

By Monday, of course, everything was more or less back to normal in London (and even the "why oh why" brigade had realised that there wasn't much mileage in insisting that They Should Have Done Something). But it was a strange weekend, discovering what damage had been done in the neighbourhood [of course, I realise this is trivial to people who've suffered real hurricanes, but our weather usually keeps within the bounds of a modest sufficiency, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime event]:

Friday 25 November 2011


Enjoying the morning sun over a cup of tea in my living-room, I caught an unexpected glint in the corner of my eye. From about halfway up one wall beside the window, fully four feet down to the handle of a hardly-used magazine basket, two threads of spider silk were catching the light. Not that I've noticed a spider (or a fly, come to that, recently), but one has obviously been industrious.

Unlike me, at least as regards the dusting department. Instead, I've been busy with, among other old photographs, this spider web from forty-odd years go in my parents' garden:

Thursday 24 November 2011

Scanning past horizons

Chania HarbourOne of my big retirement projects is to digitise all the old photos piled up in boxes in my cupboard of clutter and mysteries. Seizing the first box to hand the other day, I found myself ploughing through assorted negatives from the 1960s onwards.

Although there are as many individual images as I'd imagined, it's always surprising how few are really worth looking at again.

There have been some finds of moments and people I'd completely forgotten about; and scanning from the original negatives has, after some digital jiggery-pokery, brought to life images that, in print, have faded (like these of Crete in the mid-1970s), or brought out usable detail out of those that looked too dark or badly-composed. But there's been a sight too much "Who the heck is this, and what was the point of taking that?".

Each new packet reminds me of the limitations of pre-digital photography: having to make your own judgement about setting time and aperture for the light and film-speed - and then having to wait for days, or even weeks, to know whether you'd got it right, which (combined with the cost) meant taking fewer photos in a week on holiday than in a few hours today. It also meant filling in with often pointless test exposures at the start of the film as you wound it securely on, or to fill in the odd handful left on the end of the roll (unless you'd tried sneaking in "just one more" and found only half of your best shot because it was right at the end already).

Most unexpected is the incidental recognition of changes in the otherwise unremarkable sights that don't exist any more. Here are pictures from the 1960s, of the Thames riverside where I used to live, about as far west of central London as I now live to the east.

Driftwood washing up on each tide was a normal sight. These must have exceptional accumulations, with the piles built up outside the rowing clubs to be burnt off rather than risk them floating off on the next tide and damaging the boats (and my father wasn't too proud to collect driftwood on a home-made trolley for firewood at home from time to time).

Nowadays, it's not only clean air laws that prevent all that from happening. The inlet in this picture is now cut off from the river's tides by subsequent flood prevention works, and incorporated into a local park. But it wasn't till I saw these images that I realised we never see driftwood like this any more, no doubt for the same reason that I'm able to live where I live now. With the docks moved down to nearer the coast and everything arriving in containers, and with the riverside warehouses and factories replaced by housing, broken-up crates and pallets and stray baulks of timber are no longer ending up in the river and washed right through London to the western suburbs.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Autumn colour

The unusually warm weather has been producing some odd sights, and I don't just mean the people still risking T-shirts (not exactly a sign of hardiness in yesterday's sunshine). Cycling home from the supermarket, I was distracted by a butterfly dancing out of some hebe bushes in full purple flower; and my window-boxes refuse to take any seasonal hints. I still have lobelias, and the odd fuchsia and geranium, clinging on.

Whether it's something in the climate, the geology or the biochemistry of our native trees, we don't usually have very dramatic autumn colour, but the sunshine yesterday made even the fairly restricted colours on our local plane trees look more than little interesting (you can also see the following photo as a jigsaw puzzle, in whatever level of annoying complexity you choose: enjoy!):

Saturday 19 November 2011


There's a small flurry of excitement about the launch of the new series of the Danish crime series The Killing ("this time, she's got a new jumper!").

Apart from the whole question of why we enjoy watching so much misery played out, I'm struck by the commissioners' anxiety about the acceptability of subtitles. I'm wondering how many people have to use them even for English-language films and programmes, now that a naturalistic sound ambience and styles of acting and [in]articulation can make it difficult to make out what someone's saying. I had to use them all the time for The Wire, and even occasionally for homegrown drama. (And no, it's not my ears: try listening to any replays of old programmes made in dead studio sound, or to His Girl Friday, of 1939, and see how they still manage to get the dialogue across, the faster and more manic it gets towards the end).

If there's a problem with subtitles, it's when you do have some knowledge of the original language, but not quite enough to keep up, especially if it's full of slang delivered at speed - as for example in Spiral (Engrenages in the original French), which also filled the same "cult" slot on BBC4.

I'm forever trying to translate back from what I'm reading to what I've heard, which tends to distract from following the plot, even if it does add to my knowledge of French police procedure and criminal jargon (let's hope there's no need for that to come in handy next time I go). Even in other languages, there's a temptation to pick out odd bits and pieces: the way Sarah Lund referred to her CV left me wondering whether what we think of in English as "estuary" vowels might actually be a relic of the Angles and Vikings all those centuries ago.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Reporting back

The gooseberry chutney I made in August is edible, indeed more than acceptable with a nice bit of cheese or cold chicken. There's definitely a tang of an acidity that isn't the vinegar, though my worn-out tastebuds couldn't confidently identify it as gooseberry flavour. It still looks an unfortunate colour and texture, and a punnet of gooseberries doesn't actually boil down to much finished product, so I'm not sure it was worth the effort. Or not as much as the jam. Perhaps it needed some apples to bulk it out.

Likewise, though the Blessed Delia's recipe for creme caramel comes up a treat, I had to wonder, when contemplating the washing up, if is it so much better than shop-bought.

Sunday 13 November 2011

An hour and a half

That's how long I was perched on a narrow, downward-sloping ledge with one arm hooked round the railings at the back of St Paul's Cathedral churchyard, to get the best view of the Lord Mayor's Show yesterday. That's how long it took for the procession to pass.

It was the usual mix of community carnival, commercial advertising opportunity, and civic pomp and heritage, to mark the inauguration of next year's Lord Mayor. The presence, round the other side of St Paul's, of the occupation protest didn't in the event have any effect, despite their raising some pertinent points about the City's status as part local authority, part private corporation controlled by business interests. A free show's a free show, and, as it has for centuries past, this Show provided a distraction from any awkward questions of that kind.

Every organisation the new Lord Mayor is connected to, along with the livery companies of the City, any military or community organisation that can claim a connection with the City, and commercial organisations that can pay to be represented, all put their floats and marching bands into the charivari. So slipped in alongside the various units of the Army, Navy and Air Force, every kind of youth and community organisation you can think of, there were striking displays from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Pimlico Plumbers ............. and Stoke-on-Trent.

Eventually we got to the civic dignitaries, with their attendant liveried watermen, and finally the cavalry, lent by the Queen, and the Lord Mayor's State Coach with a cheery wave from the man himself. They say you know you're getting old when the policemen look as though they're barely out of school; but when the Lord Mayor of London looks as though his mum should have packed him off for a proper haircut.........

The procession ends with the Trained Bands, a reminder of the days when London stood against the monarch in the Civil War, and clung (as it did from the days of Magna Carta onwards and symbolically at least still does) to its independence. The protesters will have their work cut out.

Endurance is the name of the game for the Show: having made the procession down to the Royal Courts of Justice for the formal ceremonies, and after a break for lunch, they have to process all the way back again (by another route, for maximum exposure). Coming out of the Museum of London a couple of hours later, I found bands and floats dispersing in all directions, with time to stop and chat, pose for photographs, tend to the horses and rest the weary feet. One young band was so relieved to be finished, their leader marched them smartly out of Guildhall yard, straight at a mounted policewoman who was - to judge by her language - rather more shocked than her horse.

Friday 11 November 2011

It's all been said..


There's a reason for two minutes' silence.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Never a dull moment

With the Olympics on the way, Canary Wharf seems to developing a sporty theme this week: two book signings by sports personalities, and today (no doubt an awareness-raising event for the Paralympics - though the lunchtime throng looked to be more interested in setting new speed records for getting to their sandwiches and sushi), a demonstration of sitting volleyball:

Tuesday 8 November 2011

More visitors

Not a day that would make you think of rainbows, but when my eye was caught by an unusual pair of masts at Canary Wharf, they turned out to belong to the Rainbow Warrior:

Saturday 5 November 2011

It's that time of year again

Some might harrumph at council tax going up in smoke, but if it saves the cost of accidents at fireworks parties in homes, it'll be worth it. And it was a good show - and within walking distance.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Interior omphalomancy

Or... navel-gazing from the inside. Which is by way of explaining the fetching photos of my innards I was given yesterday afternoon, my doctor having decided that thorough investigation of my recent indigestion required an endoscopy.

Not an experience anyone would want to repeat (unless they're really peculiar), but not as bad it might have been - I was in and out within the hour. And the upshot appears to be that there's nothing that requires treatment beyond carrying on with the pills (or, in the words they've managed to avoid saying, just something one has to expect with increasing years).

I did think it might be a good omen that, when I arrived, the TV in the waiting room was showing Brief Encounter.

Less so, perhaps, the way someone in the waiting room tried to explain to a nurse that his daughter's sleepiness might not just be down to her sedative:

"She's got slight necrophilia".

Edinburgh again

Between us, we'd been to Edinburgh often enough and over so long a period that we've almost forgotten our last visits to the most obvious tourist sights: so no apologies for joining the throng to catch up on our Scottish history at Holyrood Palace and Abbey, and the Castle, once again.

Saturday 22 October 2011


Dundee doesn't exactly spring to mind as a tourist destination, but the lure of family history drew my sister-in-law to investigate life in the jute industry, so there we went: and the trip turned out to be well worth while.

First to the Verdant Works, whose name belies the noise and unhealthy working conditions of Victorian jute processing, but whose contents outlined both the industrial processes and their social context and consequences.

One such was a sort of female emancipation (despite the demanding disciplines of the work), since it was women workers who, commanding less pay than adult men, predominated in the factories, and often the men who stayed at home and became "kettle-biler" househusbands.

Another was the immense wealth of the "jute barons", fed back into examples of civic pride and improvement, amongst them the other surprise of this trip, the McManus Gallery. Here local history (back even to the prehistory of the Picts), improving tributes to the local great and good such as the missionary Mary Slessor, combine with art collections, not on a big scale, but with enough variety and welcome to draw in the visitor and stimulate the mind.

How many other such institutions start with a gallery asking the visitor to consider, with various examples of the things they work with, "What is a museum?".

Passing on, by a statue commemorating yet another product for which Dundee is famous, we came down to the waterfront, where Captain Scott's Discovery is open to visit (we didn't), guarded by these unusual-looking bollards.

From here one can see the long expanse of the railway bridge, not perhaps as beautiful as the first such bridge here, but more longlasting as it straddles the Tay (which is still silvery):

Friday 21 October 2011

A weekend in Edinburgh

For a Londoner born and bred, it would be a bit hypocritical to make a great deal of my Scottish ancestors. I have been to Edinburgh plenty of times to find out more about them (and for what it's worth, as is no doubt statistically probable with most people, there is much more geographical and ethnic diversity the further back you go, of which more later); so while my sister-in-law looked up her family history this weekend, my brother and I went along just to visit.

After I arrived there was time for a lung-stretching stroll up, round and down a bleakly wet Calton Hill for its perspective over Edinburgh city centre before meeting their train, and an evening stroll to catch a view of the Castle by night:

Friday saw us checking out the Surgeons' Hall museum: not just body parts in bottles, but an overview of the development of surgical techniques, with a detour to explore the origins of Sherlock Holmes, and a chance to test your skills at manipulating remotely-controlled instruments. Fortunately I already known I can never get the teddy bear in those things on seaside piers, so there'd be no chance of my killing someone trying to do a similar job in surgery. Then we stretched our leg muscles down the Royal Mile and up again, calling in at the Parliament for coffee (the Debating Chamber wasn't in use, so visitors could walk in, admire its light and functional interior - and note that, if debates become too heated, the Presiding Officer has a fire extinguisher within easy reach), peering down narrow closes (and discovering the charming Dunbars Close Garden), stopping off to visit St Giles's Cathedral, the Writers' Museum and a very windswept Castle Esplanade. A chance glance at the posters outside the Canongate church revealed a concert that night by the Kammerchor Chemnitz and an Edinburgh University choir, which turned out to be an unexpected treat.
John Knox's House

Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Not so recent history

A week gone since the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable St, and more than that since Wilton's Music Hall had a weekend of commemorative events to mark the anniversary. [I've had a cold and the dog ate my blogging kit - well, that's my excuse].

Nowadays, Cable St is a quiet side-street, almost entirely lined with housing estates and best-known as one of the few cycle lanes that approaches continental standards: hardly a battleground. But in October 1936, a planned Fascist march into the heart of the East End was halted by crowds of residents, backed up by barricaded streets. In those days, it was still legal to dress up in military-style uniforms for a deliberate act of coat-trailing through an area with a strong Jewish and trade union population. So, even though the BUF was known to chant anti-Semitic slogans, and even gloried in violence against their opponents, the march had not been banned, despite requests from the local councils, and the police were deployed to try to clear the street. Hence the battle. The residents kept this up until late afternoon, at which point the Police Commissioner advised Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader, to give up the attempt: so off they went to march along the Embankment while there was still some daylight. So much for Mosley's attempt to be a Man of Destiny, and the Great Leader like his continental models; if he'd ever represented anything significant, he didn't now.

There's a permanent commemoration in the mural on the side of St George's Town Hall, a little further down Cable St, which is reproduced on the poster above for the weekend's events. Wilton's air of slightly melancholic delapidation seemed to suit its nostalgic elements, with its exhibition on the British and Irish contribution to the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (in its opening stages in the autumn of 1936), reproduction posters from Spain to accompany the 19th century Indian dancers on its crumbling walls, historical documentary rehashing the old debates between the local and national left-wing parties about how to deal with the Fascists, talks on the literature and performances of the music of the period. Outside in the sudden late hot spell, the alleyway hosted a few stalls for various leftwing and community causes, with the compulsory jazz band. I'm assuming the man with the tray of "Fairly Fresh Fish" (that suddenly sprang into mechanical life when approached by the unwary) was there to entertain.

There were talks, films and exhibitions on present-day Cable St, and its challenges too, not least the latest incarnation of the resentments that fed the BUF. Are such bullies deterred, or encouraged in their pre-emptive sense of grievance and martyrdom that they direct against "the other", by being banned, or by being confronted and chased away?

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Belgium invades!

Being a bit slow on the uptake this week (that hot weather managed to bring a cold with it, can you imagine), it's taken me until now to react to the startling news that Belgians have taken over British territory, albeit temporarily.

I can't think why (though I suppose the absence of a government in Belgium let them think they didn't need permission) It isn't as though there's a brewery or a chippy there. It's not called Rockall for nothing.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Politely apocalyptic

They get a different class of slogan scrawler at Watney Market:

Friday 30 September 2011

Too hot to do much more today than stroll round to the farm for a coffee

The squirrels are used enough to people to scout around any visitor hopefully:

though not as much as this cheeky chappy in Haggerston Park last weekend:

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Moving Planet

This is a picture of one of many eye-catching stunts dreamed up around the world last Saturday for Moving Planet. Rehearsals for the "bike" were well under way by the time I got away from my Saturday chores to make my way up to Haggerston Park, but eventually we latecomers made up the numbers, lining up along the banner.

That left me time to wander around taking photos of all the action (and, as is the way of such events, inaction, since the organisers had been efficient enough to get all their photos taken before the press arrived, and everyone had to wait a while before doing it all again).

The end result may not have been as spectacular as Melbourne's; and one has to admit that, actually, bikes do need a bit of oil to keep moving (not to mention the fossil fuels involved in manufacturing them and getting them to market, since so many like mine were made in Asia); but people got to make a bit of noise and a point, of sorts. The odd thing is, there don't seem to be any aerial videos of the "wheels" going round, so you'll have to imagine it from mine.

Oh, and I got a puncture on the way home. Heigh ho.

Tuesday 20 September 2011


Or, things that happen by chance. One sunny day last week invited a bike ride, so off I set to the Victoria and Albert Museum (of which more later), through the parks wherever possible - a route that I had quite forgotten goes past the Serpentine Gallery and its pavilion, which had still been building last time I was that way.

A forbidding and closed-looking exterior takes you into a dark and even more depressing corridor, from which there is access to a cloistered garden that might have been there for a thousand, or even two thousand, years (such is its mediaeval, or even Roman, feel), instead of barely few months. This is "Hortus conclusus" by Peter Zumthor. Nothing remarkable about the plants or layout, perhaps, but all the more peaceful a sanctuary for the dramatic contrast of the fact of its enclosure - and of the fact that, like all the previous pavilions, it's purely temporary:

Back to modernity and industry for the visit to the V&A, which was prompted by a news piece about a competition to find a new standard design of electricity pylon. The shortlisted proposals were rather tucked away on a landing upstairs. You might, by the way, think that anything would be better than the great Stalinist robots that currently march across the countryside, but the glumness of the people watching a computer simulation of those that didn't make the shortlist tells you they could be much, much worse. No doubt there are all sorts of technical and cost considerations that outweigh the aesthetic, but I thought the "Y pylon" was a clear winner, for sheer simplicity. You can make your own mind up.

Serendipity might as well be the V&A's alternative title. It was the place to come for surprises on a wet day in the school holidays: you might think you wanted to look at one thing, but it's so easy to take a wrong turning and find yourself moving from stained glass to metalwork to Buddhist sculpture to musical instruments. This time, the pylon competition turned out to be a minor part of the Museum's contribution to London Design Week. On the ground floor is "Power of Making", all about new developments in craft and skill as new technologies and markets develop. Here there were bicycles in mahogany, or nylon, or covered in Swarovski crystals, a surfboard based a cardboard frame, a Polish lace manufacturer's sideline (to its usual Church vestments) in skimpy undies (presumably for a different market), various sorts of wacky furniture and a thought-provoking demonstration of 3D printers. These can create any computer-based design in plastic: as they get cheaper and more sophisticated, how soon will it be before you can have customised designs of whatever you can imagine run up in a local high street printshop?.

After all that, what better than a relaxing new way to contemplate the Raphael Cartoons, courtesy of this installation for Design Week:

Saturday 17 September 2011

Another of life's little embarrassments

What is the world coming to, when you remember the name of your neighbour's dog but not of the neighbour?

Thursday 15 September 2011

What a gent

Mildly narked by the presentational changes to Radio 3 this week, I emailed their Breakfast programme to suggest that reminding us of the news headlines barely fifteen minutes after the half-hourly bulletin was a bit too like the doom-and-gloom of a Radio 4 morning for a predominantly music and arts channel. Within minutes (even before their auto-reply), Petroc Trelawny himself emailed, promising to make sure the producers considered it.

Now, how do we get them to drop the "classical charts" stuff?