Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Tuesday 23 December 2014

For the compliments of the season:

They have lots of mistletoe at Hampton Court:


Sunday 21 December 2014

Pensée du jour

Seen in Covent Garden:

Sunday 14 December 2014

That time of year again (oh yes it is!)

If there are three Princess Leias outside a pub in Greenwich, apparently engaged in what must be called a bun-off, there's got to be a simple explanation.

There is. For some reason, the Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich incorporated some Stars Wars elements: but what that reason is, well, who knows? Or cares.

It seems that panto horse races are quite a thing. They attract attention and get people into a jolly mood to let their cash be extracted for good causes.

This particular race requires a canter round a short urban course with several refreshment stops (what the rest of us would call a pub crawl).

Preceded by a somewhat lacklustre procession (hardly a parade) of Star Wars stormtroopers and characters, it involved TV's most annoyingly flamboyant racing commentator (to maintain some vestigial association with the sport of kings, though each stage of the race turned out to be a little short for serious analysis of form).

While some spectators joined in the spirit of the occasion, most preferred to look on with a glass in their hands, though to judge by the sound of rattling tins, plenty of money was being collected.

 There was some serious reportage going on as well: and if the reporter's getting a tip from the horse's mouth, then it's only fair and balanced to give the other end a say as well.

Thursday 11 December 2014

We may be well on the downward slope to winter, but the low light and long shadows of early sunsets offer some consolation for a cold walk in the park.

Friday 28 November 2014

The last poppies

The last of 888,426 poppies
Passing by the Tower the other day, it was possible to see the last of the work to remove the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which caused such a stir in the run-up to Remembrance Day. The part of the moat on the riverward side was still being cleared.

Volunteers were hard at work, even in the rain, some lifting and separating the ceramic flowers, each one representing a Commonwealth soldier who died in the First World War.
Others were hard at work hammering the metal stems to separate them from the central button, no doubt for recycling.

From the way the rush to see it in the last few days was reported, anyone would think no-one knew the installation had been growing since August. The cynic in me couldn't help wondering if the solemn announcement by the government that there would after all be arrangements for people to see something of it even after its scheduled end wasn't just a re-packaging of the fact that it would just take this long to complete the removal. 

Here's what it looked like some months ago, well on its way to completion:

Friday 21 November 2014


By the adhesive strength of Marmite, that is.

Being of a thrifty frame of mind and hating to see something I've paid good money for go to waste, I thought it would be an idea to add some hot water to the last scrapings with a view to adding a bit of flavour to a soup or stew or something.

But that, of course, required the lid to be removed, for the first time in a while.

There were pliers involved. And sundry remarks not to be repeated here. But at least the Council won't be complaining about food waste in the recycling.

Friday 14 November 2014

Today's mystery object...

...is a serpent - the kind you blow down to make (if you're really proficient) a sound somewhere between a French horn and a tuba.

This weekend the Painted Hall at Greenwich serves as the impressively grandiose venue for the exhibition part of the Early Music Festival, for makers and suppliers of music and musical instruments.

And an amazing collection of harps and harpsichords, recorders, viols, crumhorns, shawms, bagpipes and other products of great artistry and craftsmanship it turns out to be.

Complete with a programme of concerts by professionals and students, it (almost) inspires a desire to have a go oneself.

Monday 10 November 2014

And round it comes again....

Gog and Magog, legendary guardians of the City
The Lord Mayor's Show, that is. This year's vantage point wasn't so ideal once the latecomers turned up and stood in front with their cameras (and sometimes umbrellas) raised, which means there are no photos of the pomp of the Lord Mayor's Coach and all the flunkeys, but that's all been discussed here before, on more than one occasion.

But the usual mixture of civic pride,  community spirit and historical reminiscence was on display: to add to the traditional robes for the liveried companies and City officers, there were several reminders of both the First and Second World Wars, and an advance warning that next year will be the bicentenary of Waterloo.

If I hadn't been too mean to buy a programme, I'd probably have known why there was an owl leading some soldiers - and fish on Segways; and where else would you expect to see a flying pig?

But be that as it may, as ever, as well as the procession, there were fireworks in the evening (and then it really rained):

Thursday 6 November 2014

Call for Sherbet Holmes...

I could have sworn the bag was full yesterday afternoon.

Sunday 2 November 2014

As I passed through Kings Cross, the Midland Hotel, against the remains of the daylight, looked particularly Gormenghastian.

Monday 13 October 2014

According to that well-known source of infallible guidance, the internet*, it's pretty hard to tell I'm not forty years younger than it says in my passport.

If only the internet could persuade my knees and hips of the fact.....

*You can take the test here:

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Stroll through Covent Garden market and past the stall advertising magic tricks, and you might spot a potential magic trick out on the square beyond.

The portico seems to have been eaten through, leaving the upper part floating in the air.

But on closer inspection, it's not part of the main building, but a separate and (as it turns out) temporary installation. I rather think the picture on the right caught the tail-end end of a TV interview with the artist.

It seems to be a big hit with the passers-by; and for those wondering how they did it, the unobstrusive market cart at one end might suggest a solution:

Thursday 2 October 2014

Shiny, shiny

There's a particular sort of magical thinking that used to catch me in posh stationery shops: somehow that pen, that notebook, and those smart file folders would make my handwriting perfect, my thoughts positively lapidary and so tidily organised. Fat chance, of course, but something similar was hovering around while I was spending months gazing at seemingly endless variations of shiny new equipment,  my desktop being at least ten years old (in computer years, somewhere near village idiot age, I imagine) and Microsoft having decided to let the operating system decline into decrepitude without support (as I imagine may yet come to us all).

So finally I plumped for a laptop that can do everything the desktop does, only faster and with a much sharper screen display, and a convertible thingy that can replace my travelling netbook and be just a tablet as well. With touchscreens on both of them, the tappy-swipey generation gained yet another member.

It took a couple of weeks for the magical thinking to subside, and work out a routine for doing the same jobs as before, but much more quickly and smoothly (already, scanning my old photos has progressed to the 1990s, whoop-de-doo). For all the complaints people have made about Windows 8.1, I do find the extra options offered by the touchscreen rather useful - it makes scrolling through longer pages much more controllable than using the trackpad, for me anyway.

But superstition, not to mention experience, tells me that the more "intuitive" and "helpful" computers get, the more potential for trouble there is.  I wouldn't be surprised if those kindly people at AmaGoogleFacePal come out with some combination of eye-tracking and brainwave-measuring technology to place an order and charge your credit card for whatever seems to attract your attention on a web-page (Apple will have their own version, no doubt called iWant), without your having to twitch an eyelid. And by then we'll have become so inert we'll no longer have the physical capacity to send back all the things they get wrong.

Saturday 27 September 2014

September means the Great River Race

Conveniently timed for my ride up to the supermarket this morning, the crews were beginning to launch and line up for the start of the race, all the way from Greenwich to Richmond under their own power (by oar or paddle, I think - no sign of a pedalo class yet).

As ever, the launch site looked like a colourful confusion of boats, flags and costumes whose practicability for 20-odd miles of effort looked rather doubtful.

And what better excuse justification for lunch at the Grapes than to get a grandstand view of the procession of Santas, Smurfs, sailor costumes, Dutch Marines - and someone catching a crab?

Thursday 4 September 2014

Papers, please!

Never mind what we tend to think about the way the US organises (or not) its medical care, something there seems to encourage a different sort of patient empowerment.

On one US-based forum I dip in and out of, a discussion on whether certain sorts of treatment should be hospital-only included someone's claim that:

I've never gone into an OR for a procedure (major or minor) unless I have everyone who will be working on me in the pre-op room for proper introductions, review again of complete details of procedure and documents of their backgrounds.

Imagine trying that here.

Thursday 28 August 2014

A wet blanket writes...

In all the hooha about the Ice Bucket Challenge and all that, it doesn't seem to have been much remarked on that demonstrative charity/philanthropy is nothing new.

From the days of mediaeval warlords and robber barons endowing churches and colleges to Victorian industrialists establishing schools and hospitals, posterity has rarely seen lights hidden under bushels, or left hands not waving self-congratulation at what the right hand's been doing (and all for charity): though in the past, the torments of eternal damnation might have been a bit more powerful an influence than today's Twitter-trolling and tabloid shame.

Even the humble flag day works on the same principle, whether it be as decorous as Queen Alexandra's Rose Day or as solemn as remembrance poppies.

Though I doubt if these Alexandra rose-sellers would have been amused by the Ice Bucket idea.

Let alone her:

"It's Bookaaaaaayyy!"

Sunday 24 August 2014

I think -

I hope - they mean guest beers.

Thursday 17 July 2014

It was only a matter of time

...before drones became a hobby for the general public. And, as is the way of the internet, a site and a "community" have sprung up for people who use them to take (it has to be said) some pretty stunning photos.

But how much longer will it take, I wonder, before the forest of raised hands waving cameras and iPads in front of a view is supplemented by a cloud of camera-bearing drones buzzing around overhead? Or someone's so busy taking a selfie of themselves with a drone overhead that they step out in front of the traffic? (Granted, that would be a prime candidate for a Darwin Award, but I still tend to think capital punishment a bit harsh, even for terminal vanity).

Thursday 10 July 2014

Throwback Thursday

Today's throwback is only a couple of years, to a showery day in the Olympic Park.

This was the view across the main entrance and concourse area as the Paralympics came towards their end.

And now the same spot in the re-opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park includes this cheerful children's playground:

The Aquatic Centre, now without its wings of extra spectator seating, allows light to flood in under the floating ceiling, and was getting plenty of general public use, as was the Velodrome and the cycle circuits around the outside.

Which was only to be expected, since this was the day the Tour de France was passing by, and the park was full of people out to watch.

The excitement has been leading to some debate about whether this would encourage more people to get on to two wheels. Leaving aside the question whether the superhuman challenge of the Tour has much relation to you and me and the people next door seeing a bike as just another means of transport about our daily business, the one thing one notices, in the best part of four hours waiting for the cavalcade to pass, is that it's mainly a parade of lots of motor vehicles around a relatively small number of cyclists passing in a flash:

Monday 30 June 2014

In the land of the kilted pine

This year's trip to Austria seems to have encouraged a focus on the distinctly odd, like this interesting garden decoration, somewhat out of line with the general conventions of the area (as indeed was the same owner's idea for recycling old kitchen appliances and utensils).

Of course, the scenery remains stunning, the wild flowers beautiful, old buildings picturesque, baroque churches extravagantly fanciful and so on.

But why decorate a church pulpit with a halo-ed cow?

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Munich again

Surprising what you can find when you follow your nose. Looking for quite a different building, and negotating a way through a mass of scaffolding and builders' equipment outside, led from a hot day outside into an extravaganza of cool grey plasterwork in the Theatinerkirche. No need for the black-and-white function on the camera, this is what it looks like in colour.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Words not quite failing me

Fulmination is rarely the best use of emotional energy, and that's not the sort of blogger I'd want to be, usually. But what else can one do when it seems our Prime Minister's unnamed spokesman thinks it's purely a matter for consumers whether or not the products of the theft of labour, of health and even of life itself (otherwise known as slavery) should be on sale.

Is he proposing that the police and courts should likewise apply that principle to the sale of stolen goods? And how does he propose that the Home and Education Secretaries should work together to include it in the much-touted forthcoming drive on "British values"?

Throwback Thursday

Last Thursday, it was Paris, this Thursday it's the Tirol via Munich I'm off to, so here's a photo from a good fifteen or so years ago of surfers catching the waves of mountain water as they burst through some constricting conduits, slap in the centre of Munich:

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Jardins Albert Kahn

A splendidly shady retreat on a baking hot day, the gardens surround the house of Albert Kahn, who devoted the wealth derived from his banking career to a variety of philanthropic causes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among many other projects he employed a number of photographic teams to go around the world documenting the lives of many different peoples in the hope of engendering internationalist spirit; many of the photos are in startlingly good early colour techniques.

His gardens were developed in much the same spirit, drawing inspiration from Japan, from his native Alsace, traditional French and English styles and so on, not all at their best all the time, but still presenting plenty that is striking and beautiful:

Tuesday 10 June 2014