Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 26 January 2012

A weekend in Amsterdam (1)

If postings have been a bit sparse recently, one of the reasons why has been a burst of early spring-cleaning, to get the flat ready for a weekend exchange with someone in Amsterdam. There's nothing like trying to see your own space with someone else's eyes for spotting scuff-marks and wonky cupboard doors that you've taken for granted for too long: and sorting all that out needed an extended plan of campaign.

Well, that's my excuse.

I've been to Amsterdam often enough not to be rushing around the regular sights; this time I was noticing more interesting details.

Take the cycle culture, for example. Bikes are used everywhere, and accumulate in drifts wherever there's a railing to chain one to (you've only to look at the 2500 place - count 'em - multistorey bike park at Central Station to imagine what Amsterdam would be like if cars were used as widely).

But these are mostly rather different bikes from what we see in this country or elsewhere. It's easy to spot the specialised work-bikes, with a handy box (at the front, rather than behind) for small children (once they're past being perched on a extra seat in front or behind the rider) or quite substantial freight; but it also dawns on the observer that very few are anything like racing bikes or mountain bikes (nor does anyone attempt to dress up in special cycling gear, let alone a helmet). On closer inspection, "city bikes" or "grandma bikes" turn out often to have only the one gear (it may be a flat country, but there are some impressive hump-back bridges), which makes it easier to instal a complete enclosure around the chain (that must save on the cleaning - I'd want one, only it wouldn't fit on my bike).

But, lest you think the cyclists have it all their own way in Amsterdam, here's a sign of the times, just outside where I was staying: a recharging point for electric cars.

Sunday 22 January 2012


As it happens, my flat is over the entrance to our communal garage, so there are plenty of people passing under my window, which has an exposed cast iron lintel to which my window-railings are attached. I wonder who decided - and why - it would be a good idea to jump up and attach this particular fridge magnet (cute but not my style).

Then again, there's the ongoing mystery of the thought processes behind packaging, audit trails and security. I've just received a free guidebook (handy for the incoming home exchange partners next weekend) , as a reward for providing some quotable information on the publisher's travel messageboard. Just an ordinary A5-sized guidebook to London - and packed in
- a box measuring 14"x11"x5"
- 13 (count 'em - thirteen) sheets of documentation
- 5 square feet of jumbo-size bubble wrap (enough to keep a fetishist in ecstasy for, ooh, an hour or two):

Saturday 21 January 2012

Petard-hoisting time

I see that the proprietors of the Daily Mail and other fishwrap have lost their claim to the courts that the current judicial enquiry into press ethics, phone-hacking and the like should not allow for anonymous evidence from journalists. Apparently they claimed that newspapers risked being "reputationally damaged" by "untested" claims from journalists. What business do they think they and their like have been in for decades past?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Mr. Latif

What with email, Facebook and such, postal deliveries are a sad disappointment these days. Some bills still come on paper, as do begging letters from estate agents (not quite so frequent at the moment, but where I live is still, as they say, sought-after) and flyers for takeaway pizza and curries from implausible distances away (somehow I doubt there's much measuring of cost-effective performance in their marketing: as the old saying has it, half the advertising budget is a waste of money, but it's impossible to tell which half).

But among the dross this week was a bit of a novelty. I'm not surprised, in the more African-influenced parts of Paris, to have a flyer shoved into my hands advertising the services of some miracle-working marabout (no, not a marabou, that's to do with frou-frou feathers): but not here. Though there are people from Francophone Africa round about here, they stand out by their relative rarity. Perhaps whoever left this particular flyer assumed that everyone who lives within sight of Canary Wharf works in the kind of bank that needs a miracle, or suffers from the kind of magical thinking that believes everything they're told by some chancer waving a shiny derivative.

Howsomever, Mr. Latif has kindly arranged for us all to be informed that
Your entire problem will be fulfilled in SEVEN DAYS. For example: business, financial, career, depression, separated from the person you love, domestic problems regarding husband, wife, children, health, exams, court cases, immigration, studies and sexual impotency or any other problems. Physical sport improvement, to be high rank, to be a winner. JUST ASK?...........Latif's work is 100% guaranteed, breaking black magic and evil spirits in 48 hours.
And in case there's the faintest smidgeon of scepticism left in anybody's mind, he reassures us with the signoff
THE RESULT: Believable
But here's the thing: somehow his miracle-working hasn't extended as far as getting himself out of Canning Town.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Oh yes it is!

Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington - but a panto based on, of all things, Beowulf?

Well, yes. Over a pub in the canalside no man's land between Islington, De Beauvoir Town and Haggerston*, half a dozen singer-actors, a couple of pianists and a drummer delivered an evening complete with all the usual cross-dressing, corny gags, double entendres, sweet-chucking, custard pies and audience participation, interlarding a collection of songs stretching from Eminem to Singin' in the Rain, via Sondheim and Les Miserables (and the faintest dash of Wagner) - and not forgetting a chorus of muppets.

After all, if Jack and the Beanstalk can include a man-eating giant, why not a panto with the fearsome monster Grendel (especially once Beowulf has rendered him 'armless)? And one has to admit, as Grendel's mother, Angelina Jolie didn't offer the prospect of as many laughs (well, not intentional ones) as does a pantomime Dame (and this was a very good one - though how many Dames are lined up for a Wigmore Hall recital, I wonder?).

And, by the way, this particular outing was chosen by some American visitors I know through an online forum, who'd been persuaded that they ought to see a panto while they're in London. None of the Londoners in the group knew anything about it.

*Come to think of it, that's just about where this sort of thing's to be expected.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Signs of progress

It's a while since I walked over to Greenwich. Yesterday's visit showed the riverside building works still going on: some permanent terminal-style buildings for the ferry pier and, of course, the restoration of the Cutty Sark. She, at least, is ever more visibly on the road to re-opening; the protective boarding around the site now replaced by mesh fencing, the roof of the new exhibition space underneath her now in place like a solid bow-wave, and the first stage of reinstallation of masts and rigging:

It seems to be taking forever to finish the work on the foot tunnel however. The lift/staircase shafts are boarded over as they have been for months, and little or no sign of whatever they plan to do with the wall surfaces in the tunnel itself. Instead, everywhere is covered in warning signs: