Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Sign of the times

A toddler, trying to grasp the idea that tapping and swiping the TV screen doesn't actually make it do anything.


Monday 24 December 2012

Time was, a trip "to see the lights" was a semi-compulsory part of the season, but fell by the wayside in the face so many other distractions. It was by chance that a walk through Seven Dials and Covent Garden suggested it might still be worth it, if you choose the right time of the late afternoon.

Forget the disenchantment of the most-hyped displays, in Oxford St and Regent St, which have mostly seemed not quite enough or too commercial (who thought it would be Christmassy to have the lights in Oxford St advertising Marmite?). Here, the lights are just that, with Seven Dials and the surrounding streets in a more modernistic orange and yellow, and
Covent Garden in more traditional red baubles with silver (and, appropriately for the weather, those lights that look like dripping rain), complete with a red-nosed reindeer and Lego advent calendar.

Trafalgar Square is the most traditional of all, with just the Norwegian tree and its austere plain lights. I arrived in the middle of a carol concert underneath it. Part way though a small commotion and applause among the crowd on the steps revealed a marriage proposal, greeted by a call for three cheers from the choir leader.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Magical mystery tour

Whether it's the planetary alignments, Mayan calendars, climate change, squirrels nesting in the works, or just plain human error, there have been a number of occasional slips with the audio announcements on the buses locally. Repeating the name of the last stop, or anticipating one or two ahead, is nothing new; but just recently I've heard some rogue announcements of places way off the route.

Today was such a lowering grey, seeping sort of day, that something obviously decided the thing to cheer us all up, on the pootle up the road to Canary Wharf, would be some outdoor swimming on the other side of London - for it suddenly announced the next stop would be Tooting Bec Lido.

Since we're all still here..

..why not get on with the seasonal celebrations in style, with this offering from the home of innovation, artistry and design of lasting value (well, that's what they say, and who am I to disagree?) - the Elvis Christmas Tree.

Thursday 20 December 2012

In case you were wondering...

(Mind you, he did hedge his bets by waiting for the lights to change before crossing Charing Cross Road):

Sunday 16 December 2012

Inescapable (2)

On a recent sunny day, what else but the You-Know-What would serve as a test for the 20x optical zoom on the new replacement for the camera that went on its own holiday in Austria last summer? (The insurance company kindly didn't quibble over the claim - they just knocked off so much for depreciation and the excess that in effect they refunded my premium for the year; still, anything's better than nothing).

In the end, I went for the newly-introduced upgraded model of the same type (Canon SX240HS, for the technical). This is the view from the riverside here - at least 4km or about 2.5 miles:

Friday 14 December 2012

What difference a few months make. On a return visit to Stratford in miserable weather, it's clear from John Lewis's third floor (no queueing to peek into Olympic Park this time) that, even while they still have lots of London 2012 tat souvenirs to sell, on the Park itself the only movement to be seen comes from distant orange lights on the diggers and lorries clearing up.

The temporary tentage for ticket and security checks has gone, revealing just how much space is available to be turned into parkland:

and the wings on the Aquatic Centre are well on the way to being removed:

No doubt the completed park will be the spectacular bonus we've been promised, but (as with the Olympic preparations two years out) it's hard to imagine in a bleak and rainswept December.

Friday 7 December 2012


Cycling round Limehouse Marina en route to the Regent's Canal, it struck me just how much the Shard building stabs its way into the view from just about anywhere within a substantial radius (it must be two miles or so from Limehouse, and I could even see it from Broadway Market up in Hackney).

But I have no intention of paying £25 to go up to see the only views in which it wouldn't appear (not when they put them on their website).

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Is it just a coincidence that the two monarchs who were instrumental in the biggest upheavals of this country's lurches towards modernity weren't actually born to rule? I've no idea, but it is a fact that both Henry VIII and Charles I came into the world as Spares rather than Heirs Apparent, and only moved into pole position at the age of eleven, or thereabouts, the elder brothers both having died around the age of eighteen.

It's one of those pointless "what if" questions as to whether subsequent history would have proceeded any differently if that hadn't happened, not least because the elder brothers never had much chance to show what sort of king they might have been.
The National Portrait Gallery's current exhibition on Henry Frederick, Charles I's brother, tries to give an idea of what he was like, though how much is contemporary hagiography is hard to tell. He was (of course) a paragon of all the princely virtues of the time - one wonders if some of the praise heaped upon him was intended or seen as some sort of implied criticism of his father. He apparently had his own ideas about foreign policy (as least as regards potential marriages), and about Sir Walter Raleigh (not one of the king's favourite people). He assembled the basis of Charles I's famous art collections, and after his death poets and composers seem to have been more than perfunctorily productive in the lamentation department.

One thing is clear, though. If his death aroused seemingly mediaeval suspicions of poisoning, an emerging modern science made clear through an autopsy report (also part of the exhibition) that he was genuinely sick - with what seems to today's scientists to be typhoid fever. Unfortunately, science hadn't yet got as far as to do anything about the malevolence of Jacobean drains, for which no amount of princely virtues could be much of a match.