Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 21 December 2013

Not just me, then

Interesting piece in the Guardian a few days ago comparing the TV schedules for Christmas week 1978 with the current fodder - interesting particularly that so much was crammed into just the two BBC channels (why he omits ITV, I don't know).

However, he's not really comparing like with like. Christmas week was special, after all, and he doesn't mention the deadening effect of repeats on the usual weekly schedules in those days. One thing about the multiplicity of digital channels, catch-up and PVR services these days is that the repeats are available elsewhere (if and when you choose to have them, and frequently I do, since there was so much I've missed in the past or forgotten about). I can remember that for every moan of "It's just repeats" there was one of "Why can't we have X back?".  And now we can.

The technological advance of digital TV would have happened anyway, Thatcherism or no, whether through some farcical period of "pirate" satellite broadcasting or in the way that it has developed. We might be sorry that public service may seem to have diminished in terms of the diversity and variety in any one channel's offerings: but the increase in channels has allowed the recent success of foreign language series, available almost all year round, rather than the occasional worthy movie.

And when I think of the times we used to joke "Just get them to hold it there for a minute" while we popped out to the loo or to make a cup of tea - well, with the pause button, now we can.

But I think he's right about the dumbing-down effect of endless copycat formats, property shows, and the apparent sheer terror among producers of just allowing someone to talk, uninterrupted, without people in the background acting out what they're talking about, irrelevant background music tinkling away to no great purpose, and so on (imagine if we couldn't have a real-life conversation without all that).

Friday 13 December 2013

Yes, very amusing, but if you've made the effort to start trekking round Foyle's, do you really need to be told that books are a good idea?

(Time for a deep breath before resuming the shopping fray).

Meanwhile, in other news, I see Covent Garden and Seven Dials are - in the spirit of the times - thriftily re-using last year's decorations.

Trafalgar Square is of course, unchanging:

Monday 9 December 2013

You'd better watch out....

Or at least, you should have done on Sunday morning because several thousand Santas (among them my niece) turned up in Victoria Park for a charity run.

There were Santas of all ages, sizes and even species, with sundry non-traditional variations on the costume, collecting for all kinds of charities - medical, social, environmental - and many of them had set up booths and banners for their groups.

After a not-too-serious set of warm-up exercises and posing for group photos, they all flooded towards the start point, and set out round the edge of the park.

The fastest of the serious athletes among them were back at the beginning of the 5km course within a quarter of an hour, and from then on a mixture of fast runners, joggers, people with dogs and pushchairs on a family amble came through. Clearly one child could not be parted from her scooter, but there was one little lad, who can't have more than about 7, who ran proudly home with his dad, grinning from here to Christmas. Somehow they all managed not to bump into each other as they either collected their medal with relief or ran straight on to make it up to 10km. Apart from a few late stragglers, it was all over in plenty of time for lunch.

And yes, children, even Santa needs the loo.

Wednesday 27 November 2013


Grappling once again with the sinking feeling that comes from a new gizmo not working quite as expected, frustration isn't exactly lessened by the added gush in this helpdesk response:

Thanks for reaching out to us! This is a quick confirmation to let you know that we've received your mail, and will be working as quickly as possible to respond. If it takes us a bit longer to respond than you'd like, we apologize for any convenience. We’re working tirelessly behind the scenes to get back to you.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Things you see from the top of a bus (Part Umpty-Two)

Strolling along past the shopping mall entrance at Canary Wharf, a man with a fearsome-looking hawk on his arm.

A live one.

On reflection, I suppose the management may think this the answer to some sort of problem with birds roosting where they don't want them, or something of the sort. But no-one who passed them seemed to take a blind bit of notice.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Another Shoreditch art attack

Well, art-ish.

This building abuts the old railway bridge supports that house the tube trains that are now offices, and are regularly decorated by different artists.

Someone placed the insect on top years ago as some sort of comment on the banking crisis, but now that the building underneath appears to be out of business and all locked up, the painters have extended their empire.

Friday 18 October 2013

Fun day at the museum

Perhaps not the best day  to visit the Museum of London's new exhibition of the restored Cheapside Hoard of jewellery: a teachers' strike, a couple of days after a TV documentary all about the exhibition, and apparently in the middle of half-term holidays for Dutch schools. The Museum was packed with people, and the school parties seemed busy and active, and a bit noisy: but that, after all, is the London the museum celebrates.

Inside the special exhibition gallery, despite timed entrance tickets, it could still feel crowded. Since the special beauty of so many of the pieces on display is in how small they are -  this scent bottle is barely an inch high, for example - you had to lean over the case with the borrowed magnifying glass,  blocking the view for anyone else behind. And it only took a couple of vocal and scampering toddlers to cause a fair amount of tutting.

But with a little patience, detachment and observation, it was possible to see the seemingly miraculous fine details, explore where the jewels come from, and how the pieces were made - together with the beliefs around different jewels and the illnesses they supposedly warded off, the iconography of the way they were worn, even have a sniff of the sort of scent the bottle might have contained. It was particularly powerful and pungent, but it probably would have had to be to cope with the stink of London - and Londoners - of those days.

And then, of course, there's the mystery of how this collection came to be lost or abandoned: since that must have happened any time after 1640 up to about 1680, you can take your pick of explanations - someone who went to fight in the Civil War and never came back, someone who went into exile when their side was out of favour (and never came back), a family that died in the Great Plague and left no heirs or records? We shall never know.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Some more photos of Hamburg

It isn't all about work and money: the merchants and citizens liked spending their money on the mind and soul as well.

The harbour panorama is dominated by the stern-looking tower of the Michaeliskirche, but inside, the church is far less austere and more baroquely curvaceous than you might imagine a Lutheran church to be - with a grand organ case in each of the three galleries. But a gallery window, high in the ceiling, looks distinctly like part of an eighteenth century ship: and the whole church is as broad in the beam and curvaceous as the freighters that brought the wealth to build it.

And as all good nineteenth century citizens did, they endowed art galleries, with the Kunsthalle's large collection containing some of the best-known Caspar David Friedrichs, which was a bonus for me. Not far away, the Kunst und Gewerbe Museum is a smaller version of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It has a large collection of musical instruments, including the weird and the wonderful; and on this occasion a special exhibition devoted to what constitutes bad taste - with an opportunity for members of the public to contribute their kitschy items (on condition that they take one of someone else's away with them).

The purely functional has its decorative element too. Not a few old office blocks still retain some art nouveau decorations and entrances; someone's used an escalator in the underground to create a scrolling thought for you to ponder.
And even the Elbtunnel, with its massive lifts for cars as well as pedestrians is lined with ceramic panels depicting its marine environment, including rats chasing round a workman's boot):

Wednesday 9 October 2013

This sleepy fellow is nominally on guard at the old city gate of Lübeck, a short commuter train ride away from Hamburg.

Another Hanseatic trading city, it links to the Baltic as Hamburg does to the Atlantic; but it feels much smaller, and
with more of its mediaeval and merchant core retained (or restored and re-created), the focus seems to be on a much more relaxed sort of tourism (especially on a sunny day warm enough for summer).

But for all that, it boasts connections to three significant modern Germans, so the historically-minded culture vulture could spend a fair amount of time finding out more about Willy Brandt, Günter Grass, or (as I did, since that was the only one open that day) Thomas and Heinrich Mann.

Or you could just stroll the remaining cobbled streets and snaffle up the products of the Niederegger marzipan factory.

Monday 7 October 2013

Thank goodness for digital TV. I'd have to live here for quite a while before my German could cope with extensive idiomatic and dramatic conversations, so for a lot of TV programmes only an outline gets through. Without, that is, the option for subtitles - "German for the hearing-impaired" (which, in German, I suppose I am). They might not run exactly in synch with the dialogue, but at least I can now work out what someone was actually saying a little while ago. I have to say, though, it doesn't actually improve the basic quality of the programmes themselves: subtitles or not, slow and drippy romantic soaps and formulaic cop shows are still the same.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Once round the lighthouse!

Well, not quite, but there is a great deal of Hamburg harbour and port to be seen, and direct from the city centre. The cheap way to get a tour is to take one of the public service ferries - it won't take into into all the nooks and crannies of the port, but you still see a fair amount).

There's still a visible historical chain of harbour development, from little creeks (or "fleets") running up to what would have been merchants' houses, then to
dedicated warehousing and docks (the nineteenth-century versions of which are now offices, flats and a very visible number of oriental carpet shops), these in turn being supplanted by a modern "Harbour City" set of developments, like so many other cities, complete with tourists gliding past on Segway tours. One difference here is that the housing includes plenty to rent, and the "anchor" building is a striking and gigantic new concert-hall, music education centre and public cultural space (complete with wavy roof)

But what is most striking is the expanse of modern dock and port facilities on the other side of the river, with cranes and wind turbines and
other industrial facilities stretching as far as the eye can see.

What seemed, on my childhood visit to the Pool of London, to be huge freighters (one last remaining example sits here as a museum and visitor attraction) have now been replaced by bigger and bigger container ships. Where London's docks moved out to the sea to accommodate the new behemoths, in Hamburg it's possible to live in the local millionaires' row, stroll on the beach, admire a museum collection of traditional sailing boats or visit a Soviet-era submarine, while watching a ship with thousands of freight containers on board coming right into the city centre, or some massive cruise ship being refitted on the other side of the river.

Saturday 5 October 2013


A little autumn sunshine through some simple coloured panels can change the most mundane and functional aluminium and grey surfaces:

Friday 4 October 2013

This ship on a stick actually sits on top of one of the tall flagpoles outside the even huger Rathaus in Hamburg. It underlines, as the Rathaus itself does, that like the other Hanseatic cities, its strength is in trade, business and craft. At present, there's a display in the entrance on all that the relevant trade organisations do to support the training and promotion of independent craft and artisan trades in Hamburg: as their predecessors have done for centuries, to judge by the opulent display in the public rooms of the building as the tour guide takes you round.

As it happens, the mediaeval heart of the city was destroyed in a great fire in 1842, the old Rathaus having to be sacrificed to create a firebreak, so this building dates from the same era as the equally show-off Victorian town halls of the more recent industrial cities of Britain. From the intricate casting of the entrance gates, rooms and staircases lined with marble, onyx columns, intricate carving and inlay on doors and panelling, felted and leather wall coverings, ornate candelabra, plush upholstery and grandiose paintings and statues: all underline what a confident and competent company of citizens can do. Royal patronage and pomp gets a bare nod here and there.

Also as it happens, this building was barely affected by the other great firestorm on the city in the Second World War. There was a bomb that landed in the square outside that could have done severe damage; but it failed to explode. The detonator is on display in one of the meeting rooms. It looks like any other piece of finely-machined precision engineering: though no-one actually said so, its failure could be a symbol of what's happened in the long rivalry between us - and why.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Three stops from Schlump

Perhaps someone who lives near Mudchute is in no position to find other cities' station names amusing, but my current home exchange to Hamburg is on the U-Bahn line that passes through the aforementioned Schlump to get to that monument to civic pride, the imposing 19th century Rathaus, or indeed to anywhere much.

Unless, that is one were to cycle. It's evident that a lot of people in this very pleasant suburb do: so much so that there are rather elegant on-street lockable garages for bikes:

Friday 13 September 2013

Thursday 12 September 2013

Here's an interesting idea, if (like me) you were brought up to abhor throwing things away, and to keep stuff "in case it comes in useful some day".

Pity about the fact that their website isn't (as yet) working - and about their stereotypical view of old ladies and people who like to keep things simple. But if they get the support and interest - and if it can be made to Fairphone principles as well.....

Monday 9 September 2013

Miracle weight-loss programme!

My fancy new scales told me there'd only been slight progress since last week (no surprise there), but as my stance shifted bit towards my heels, somehow I lost over a pound. Well, that's where it chose to stop measuring, so I'll settle for that.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Just in case...

..you ever want to fantasise about taking a pop at some bankers*:
*NB: Securocrats please note - this information is provided for the purposes of facetiousness only. No responsibility is accepted for po-faced literality or misinterpretation of law.

Friday 16 August 2013

Another day, another ship

Except that, after last year's excitements, last week's visitor, the Italian sail training ship Amerigo Vespucci, seemed liked a rarity, rather than more of the same.

As with previous visiting sailing-ships, people were allowed to stroll the decks, admire the brasswork and neatly stowed ropes and rigging, wonder over the arrangement of four or five steering wheels all linked together (would it take a team to hold the rudder on course in rough weather?), imagine (if a small child) this was a pirate ship - or (this being modern times) sit and play with a computer.

On the face of it, not a lot of difference from similar visitors from other countries offering picturesque reflections in the office blocks around - but could these sailors have come from any other country but Italy?

Monday 29 July 2013

Interesting what side-tracks you. On the way to Trafalgar Square, I dropped into the café in the crypt at St Martin's, only to be encouraged into their exhibition space - where all the exhibits in a show called "cARTographies" were covered in post-it notes. The idea is that visitors pay to remove a post-it, which one of the artists makes into another picture for the visitor. It's intended to be a rather laborious way of side-tracking the money-obsessed view of art: it's all explained on their website.

Enterprise deserves encouragement, and interest was obviously still slow to build, so I bought in. The artist drawing this little picture, after asking for a title for it, explained it as one part of a larger gridded picture, to which he would eventually attach a poem or story made out of the titles for each of the grid's squares (more maps, in a way). It would all be part of - well, a project that isn't mine to share with the internet, just yet, but one that anyone would wish him well in.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Big Blue

The Fourth Plinth has changed occupants again.

Like the golden boy on the rocking-horse (which preceded this, having won out in the most recent competition for the slot), this is a comment on the military - and distinctly male - honorands elsewhere in Trafalgar Square.

And, yes, it is a deliberate pun on the phallic heroics of Nelson's Column (though the artist claims she hadn't realised the French connection in the symbolism, which at first glance was all that struck me).

And who else should unveil a big blue cock than Our Beloved Mayor™? Had it been his predecessor, it would, no doubt, have had to be a little red rooster.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Tuesday 16 July 2013

I thought my teeth were beginning to look a bit equine. The seeming glee with which the dentist talked me through the X-ray images (enlarged to alarming size) only confirmed just how far my gums have receded; and then she pointed out where I needed a filling - for the first time in 30-odd years. Decrepitude advances. Soup for lunch, I think.

Monday 15 July 2013

Summer rites

No prizes for guessing where this is.

Appropriately for July 14th, a programme of French - or French-based - music by a French orchestra. It might sound a bit dustily academic (ballet music from different periods played on instruments as they were at the time rather than standard modern ones), but whether it was the period instruments or the sprightly tempi, the music sounded very fresh and cleaned of old varnish, especially old warhorses from Delibes and Massenet.

These, and pieces from earlier periods, set out a context (of the conventional, polite society view of "exotic" folk music, duly adjusted to fit the expectations of the theatre-going public) for the star item of the night.

The huge leap to the rawness of the Rite of Spring's native - and startlingly modernist - presentation of Russian folk myths and music made clear why there was a riot at the first performance. Even now - and especially in this re-creation of Stravinsky's original version - it's hard to believe that was a hundred years ago; a pity the hall wasn't full (at least in the expensive, polite society, seats), but the cheers and stamping of the final applause made up for that.

No stars, though, for the person who coughed in the opening bassoon solo (not me, I hasten to add).