Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 27 October 2012

Something fishy

7.30 am on the coldest morning of the autumn (so far) isn't normally the ideal time to be up and about sightseeing, but if you want to see Billingsgate fish market, that's getting a bit late. And it is only a short bus ride away from me, so there's no excuse for not having visited before.

It's a prosaic shed (quite unlike its former building (now an upmarket conference centre) in the City), and it's tucked into a nondescript plot of land handy for the main road (but no doubt now eyed covetously by no end of property developers).

Once you're inside, the display of fish is as far from the average supermarket display as you could imagine, with whole huge fish and wholesale-size packages of processed products on every side. There are, of course, familiar products of our own waters, like dressed crab for £2.50, and those vacuum-packed kipper fillets with a lump of butter in; uneasy memories were stirred by the sight of a sign for coley (my mother would occasionally boil "six-pennorth of coley for the cat", which would drive the rest of us out of the house) - I had no idea they were such a big fish. But what caught my eye were the exotics, like parrot-fish, needle-fish with alarming green teeth, baby sharks, and the like. That, and the pile of salmon heads (4 for £1) that presumably someone might want for stock.

Eventually, the traders' banter was sounding a little forced, some of the stands were closing, and the pressure-washing of stands, trolleys and floor was moving rather pointedly towards people who were gawping and photographing rather than buying. So it was time for a scallop and bacon roll in one of the onsite cafés (sorry - caffs), and on with the rest of the day's business.

Sunday 21 October 2012

You get a politer class of graffiti at Marylebone Station. True, it sternly demands "Bring down the government!" - but it is signed off with a heart.

Friday 12 October 2012

It was entirely a matter of chance that I walked up Charing Cross Road today and noticed the coincidence of the date on the memorial to Edith Cavell that, like millions, I've passed countless times before. Today is the anniversary of her execution by the occupying forces in Brussels; evidently, wreaths had been laid this morning, one with the Belgian colours on.

What is remarkable about her story is not just that the shock of it brought home that the war, then still relatively new, was going to be more brutal, for women as for men, than many had so blithely supposed it might: it was her final words to those around her that made such a deep impression. She might perhaps have meant them more as a clear-sighted acknowledgement that she had always understood the risk she was running, than as the pacifist and humanitarian message they came to signify. But that was what continued to resonate long afterwards:

Tuesday 9 October 2012

"Press button B"

Time was, that was a simple mechanical operation, to get your money back from a public phone if the call didn't go through. The world of modern kitchen appliances is rather more complicated.

If it was whizzy enough - by comparison with what I was brought up with - to have a couple of  knobs to twiddle round a scale of printed options that told you what was on offer, now we have slimline, streamlined multi-functional indicators with discreet hieroglyphics (cheaper to print different manuals for different languages, which is no doubt why I've got an additional booklet of instructions for the oven in Czech and Slovak).

Take the dishwasher (not literally, of course). It has some sort of sensing arrangement to tell you when it needs more salt, which means telling it how hard the water is. There's a table offering four (count 'em) different ways of measuring hardness against the possible machine settings. Most Londoners would imagine we have really hard water, but of course it's passed through a lot of (ahem) human filters since leaving the chalk hills, and according to all four of the measures on Thames Water's website, it turns out to be barely half way up the available scale (one wonders where on earth is at the top).

But trying to get that recorded on the machine..... well. It turns out that the indicators for different sorts of wash also serve, in the right sort of combinations, to tell you how to set not only the hardness scale but also to choose whether it beeps to tell you it's finished (haven't yet found a way of getting it to put the washed dishes away). This involves pressing one button till one light's on, then it blinks, then the one next to it blinks and goes on, and yet another blinks and goes off. Or not. Why is that one over there blinking and this one not? How do I get the blinking thing to stop blinking well blinking so I can start again?

I think I got there in the end, but I might as well have been randomly pressing buttons on the Tardis ("I'm not very bright and I haven't got my glasses on"):

Sunday 7 October 2012

And it's done..

(Apologies for the blurrier photos - but you get the drift):

Thursday 4 October 2012

Bit of a swiz

National Poetry Day today, apparently, and poems were promised for the Piccadilly Circus lights.

Sonnets instead of Samsung, you might think, but not really.

Instead, one relatively small strip at the bottom of all the adverts featured, for a few minutes every hour, some short films inspired by Charles Causley's

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.

Which was all very well, insofar as they could be made out against the competition from all the other advertising panels (not to mention, depending on where you were standing, having your view obscured by a passing double-decker). A brave attempt, perhaps, but simply swamped:

Wednesday 3 October 2012


The Wellcome Collection's offering for the summer of the Olympics has been the "Superhuman" exhibition, on the science and engineering of "human enhancement", its medical applications and artistic responses to it.

It starts with Icarus, and moves swiftly through glasses, false teeth, and false noses for syphilitics. It soon expands through the kind of prosthetic developments we're familiar with nowadays, to ever more mind-boggling possibilities (although there's an artwork connecting different sorts of life support machines to act together like a body to point out how difficult much of this work is).

What may be technically possible, in all forms of biotechnology, raises difficult questions. Among them (perhaps the organisers could not have foreseen how much the response to the Paralympics would bring it into general discussion) is: what is "normal"?

Who defines (and how) the "normality" that prosthetics are supposed to restore in those perceived to be impaired? What defines the exceptional human (rather than technology-assisted) performance we celebrate in competitions (and will we come to value "performance" in general rather than trying to focus on the specifically human quality of it? Who pays for, and what do we do about unequal access to, all these new technologies? Where are the boundaries beyond which enhancements make us "abnormal"?

And if you think there should be a limit, one of the exhibition's video contributors points out that, eventually, if life as we value it is to survive in the universe, our successors will have to enhance themselves enough to find or build another planet to live on, before the sun's collapse envelops the entire solar system. Don't worry, we've a few million years left: climate change and new diseases are far more likely to get us, in a much nearer future.

On which cheery thought, time for another cup of tea, I think.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Kitchens on the brain...

Somehow, other people's kitchens seem to draw the attention just at the moment. Like this view from the street of the restaurant kitchen at the Globe on Bankside:

Monday 1 October 2012

It begins....

After a summer's worth of hesitation and cogitation about replacing the kitchen after both the washing machine and the dishwasher chose to give notice, not to mention faffing about with possible tiles, and further delays so that the fitters could avoid the Olympic traffic snarl-ups they told us to expect....... the time has finally come to bivouac up one end of the living room with the essential supplies behind a barricade of all the bits and pieces for the new kitchen, while my bed is safely defended by boxes full of pots, pans, crockery, utensils and all those things that filled up the cupboards when I thought they might come in useful some day (possibly).

So from this at its spick-est and span-est

it had come to look like this when the fitters arrived at 8.30am:

and this when I got home at 5.30pm:

It looks cleaner and tidier than it has done for years.