Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 31 May 2015

Sign outside a café in Spitalfields. To judge by the numbers inside, this sort of niche marketing works.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

This sceptical-looking copper was keeping an eye on the spectators at the State Opening of Parliament this morning. After all the excitements of the General Election, this was business as usual. Hard to imagine that, if you believed the opinion polls at the time, there was every prospect of alternative claimants to government each having a go at getting a Queen's Speech approved in Parliament (presumably the Palace would have expected them to find a way to sort that out without having to go through two such ceremonies in quick succession, but who knows?).

But in the event, the voters decided the issue, and the ceremonial proceeded as usual, from the sergeant-major using his pacing -stick to mark out the exact intervals between the Guardsmen along the route, the band strategically placed not only for salutes, but also to entertain the waiting spectators, squadrons of highly-polished cavalry, coaches and cars of assorted dignitaries and officials (and the Crown Jewels) getting to Westminster in time to make sure everything was in place for the main event, to the brief glimpse of herself trundling past, just at the right moment for the Australian tourist beside me to snatch the perfect photo she never expected to get.

Not to mention the street-sweeping machines bringing up the rear, so that you'd never know even a single horse had been along those streets.

Thursday 21 May 2015

De-cluttering seems to be addictive.

After all that redundant paper and old letters (six large binbags full of shreddings), this morning I managed to get on to the bike and round to the recycling centre a palimpsest of technologies - a 40-year-old handheld vacuum cleaner (well, it might have come in handy, just in case), a 30-year-old telephone answering machine, over 60 computer diskettes, half a dozen rewritable CDs  - and a small bag of old clothes just to pad it all out.

My old computers are still waiting to be disposed of securely, there are a couple of shelves in the storage cupboard to be gone through, and an old cabinet that's so battered it isn't really worth attempting to do much with (and I have no idea what I shoved inside it).

And that'll leave plenty of room for the next lot (you never know when it might be useful........)

Monday 4 May 2015

Sunshine at the Bank

No, not a weather forecast, either literally or financially, but a person.

To be specific, someone I must have been at school with, and referred to in a letter from a mutual friend found in a box full of old letters starting over 40 years ago, uncovered in the process of de-cluttering (finally!) my storage cupboard.

It was an unsettling experience to realise I had actually forgotten some of the people writing to me, not to mention many of the people they referred to; and even more so, as I re-read them, to think of all the could haves, would haves, should haves of different points in the past.

Less unsettling, perhaps, to marvel at how we actually managed to make arrangements to meet and to keep in touch in the days when you either needed to find a landline or phone box, or to send a letter or a post-card; and if, as they would, something went wrong, another exchange of cards or letters would be winging their way backwards and forwards.

There was no great loss in consigning so much trivia to the shredder; but some names and faces had re-emerged from the mists of memory - including, eventually, someone not exactly blessed with the sprightliest sense of humour, who eventually went into something financial.

Saturday 2 May 2015

Madeira: Flowers and gardens

Up in the hills behind Funchal (so high there's a cable car up to it) is the village of Monte, which hosts not only the last resting-place of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor (still, its seems, attracting Hungarian devotees) and the start of Madeira's much-touted street toboggan rides (no, we didn't), but also several gardens.

 One of them is the Palace Tropical Garden, which sets into a deep ravine a largely Oriental-style of garden, hence this cheery chap.

There's also a large collection of other tropical plants and traditional ornamental tiling with a focus on Portugese links to Asia.

But the ordinary domestic gardens can show some interesting displays, not to mention the wild plants, which can verge on the weird and wonderful:

Friday 1 May 2015

Madeira: a cliff walk

We had booked to go for a walk on a mountain top; the weather was fine in town and on the coast, but as the van climbed up and up, the cloud became thicker and colder. At the top, the bushes were coated in ice and visibility didn't extend more than a few yards beyond the gift shop. So the guide's Plan B was a coastal walk, and in less than half an hour, we were in full sun and temperatures like an English summer.

And there was no shortage of compensatory vistas: