Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Tuesday 26 April 2011

A grand day out

By tradition, a sunny Bank Holiday Monday more or less requires Londoners to go to the seaside - and the closest to hand is Brighton.

You can go for the over-the-top orientalist splendour of the Pavilion, or check out the antiques, arty and alternative shops and cafés in the Lanes, the Regency re-construction of the original fishing village

But for most people, Brighton is for fresh air and fun, preferably as vulgar, saucy and sometimes downright raucous as possible

If it' s still a bit early and breezy for the beach to be getting crowded,

and if strenuous exercise isn't your thing,

then the pier always offers something.

From the simple pleasure of getting yourself photographed in a comical pose or topical situation

you can stroll along the pier, taking in the views and peering between the decking, which is carefully spaced to let you experience the thrill of seeing the sea beneath your feet without any of the inconveniences of being on a boat.

And, of course, among the opportunities to relieve yourself of your money, there are food stalls and a fortune-teller (if you believe the signboard, even the biggest financial firms in London consult the tarot reader, which may explain a lot).

You can't come to the seaside without visiting the rock shop.

Your tooth-threatening souvenirs are available in all shapes and sizes, not just the familiar stick with name of the resort lettered all through, but also versions for your football team or for the recipient:

Amaze your loved ones with a novelty meal:

or amuse your more disreputable friends with something saucier:

With treats and souvenirs bought, there's still the amusement arcade and its "penny falls" machines, cranes that never pick up the cuddly toy, and shoot 'em up video games:

and right at the end of the pier, the funfair offers all the waltzers, dodgems, coconut shies, racing games, horror shows and thrill rides you could want:

But don't just take my word for it. Here's another view of a day out in Brighton:

Saturday 23 April 2011

Old friends

This venerable houseplant has just come into flower. It's one of a pair that have been around for decades, and that I brought home from my parents' flat after they died. The other is a Christmas cactus, which produces a winter display of flamboyantly frilly flowers in an improbable neon shade of purple. This one flowers in spring, and, today of all days, deserves to be called an Easter cactus.

According to my equally ancient reference book on houseplants, they've both been called a Schlumbergera, which doesn't sound very attractive. The book implies they're rather sensitive, but they get no special treatment from me, and yet they quietly flower on time, year after year.

Time for a tonic

This retirement lark is rather strange. With all the time in the world to do whatever takes my fancy, somehow it takes more effort to get started. I have got as far as catching up on a few household tasks I'd been putting off, but mostly I've been in holiday mode.

I've read more books in a couple of weeks than in as many months before, but somehow that holiday feel hasn't extended to much getting out and about, despite waking earlier and earlier in the mornings. It's no surprise I've started feeling the impulse to nap in the afternoon as well as slope off early to bed. In the present glorious weather that seems like a terrible waste (as well as a certain recipe for encouraging ever-earlier wakefulness, and so it goes on).

But the season of Big Events is well under way, and not to be ignored. A novelty this year is the South Bank celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain on the site. This in turn marked the anniversary of the Great Exhibition (the first of its kind) in 1851 and was set up as a "tonic for the nation". After ten years of austerity and deprivation, this rundown and war-damaged area of London was to be - in today's parlance - regenerated by a combination of cultural investment and crowd-drawing fun, with exhibitions of the latest technological and industrial developments, arts and design, funfairs, bands and outdoor dancing.

Like its predecessor, it was derided in advance as a waste of money and a vanity project for its promoters, but turned out to be a great success. The celebration of a supposedly reinvigorated and innovative British technology and manufacturing looks a bit hollow from today's perspective, but the area's new identity as an arts and entertainment centre has underlined the Festival's lasting reputation as a kick-start for new thinking, particularly in arts and design.

So what are they offering us this year? Well, to add to the living statues, buskers, skateboarders and trick-cyclists, bookstalls, theatre, cinema, galleries and concert halls, and an inflatable temporary theatre for a comedy festival, we have a temporary "seaside". A rather small beach (well, a giant sand-pit really, Paris Plage style), a line of gaily-painted beach huts offering various art works, and a rather over-romantic/nostalgic depiction of Southend-on-Sea, deckchairs on the artificial lawn outside the bookshop, and massive queues building up for the ice-cream stalls.

Not all the art displays were fully functional, but one eye-catcher is this display of poems written by refugee groups in London, recalling something similar in the 1951 Festival:

The weather had drawn out the crowds, and the permanent "Appearing Rooms" fountains were particularly attractive to lots of delightedly-screaming children (I'm also posting here a video taken some years ago, to show how they work as a puzzle, as well as just soaking people):

A good time was being had by all, but it's all a bit small-scale by the standards of 60 years ago. These days, fun for its own sake is so much more available, it would be hard to achieve the impact of the original:

Tuesday 12 April 2011

I did say it wouldn't be long before there were lambs at the Mudchute City Farm. Prepare to go "aah" (or, if you're so minded. "Ah, Bisto!"):

Meanwhile, in other local nature notes, we now have lilacs out:

while over in Greenwich Park, the sun is bringing out the first azaleas to compete with the magnolias, camellias and daffodils:

Sunday 3 April 2011

New life

Spring is coming together, seemingly in more of a rush than it usually does.

Now that my last contract has come to an end, I can consider myself starting an new life of retirement.

Time for a stroll around, with no particular target or deadline.

Unlike the birds making making use of nesting rafts and stray rubbish along the wall of Millwall Dock:

The coots (who always seem to breed early and often) have produced a first stumbling ball of fluff, who will, no doubt, quickly become as big a bully as the rest of them:
The city farm is still waiting for the first lambs to be gambolling around the field (but judging by the bleating from one of the sheds, that may not be too long a wait).

A surprise exhibit by the pig-pens is this example of what you would have found here 70 years ago -a battery of anti-aircraft guns to defend the docks (indeed, for a few weeks in late 1939, my father was here as part of the team working a gun just like this).
Some enthusiasts hope to show it in its historical context, some of which you can still read in the arrangement of mounds and concrete trackways around the fields and allotments.

Though the eye tends to be struck more by the contrast of farm and finance: