Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 31 December 2016

It's party time...

.. in fabulous Hackney - it must be fabulous because the Council says so, and here's their idea of why:
Click to enlarge
All good advice in theory, but the people who need to be told won't take any notice of notices, and those who don't need to be told might think twice about whether this is, after all, quite their sort of place.

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Tip-top tap

If you're feeling a little over-full after the festivities,  and that your get up and go has got up and gone, here's some encouragement:

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas lights

This year, the main displays in central London seem to have moved away from the heavily commercial and promotional styles of recent years. Regent Street is all angels:

even if the crowd outside Hamleys looks like as mad a scrum as ever. The small streets around are getting in on the act as well, and Oxford St has gone to town on a starry theme as a charitable promotion:
Carnaby Street is reviving its 1960s reputation:
Not to be outdone, Covent Garden has seized on a mistletoe theme:
Seven Dials was severely modernistic for several years, but is now back with a more traditional sort of look:
but down on the Strand, they've gone for something more abstract, perhaps echoing the traditional austerity of the Norwegian donors of the Trafalgar Square tree:
 In the shops, some have gone for similar restraint, and John Lewis doesn't go much beyond imagining woodland animals' burrows full of everyday products:
 but Selfridges has Santa on an expensive winter sports holiday, which seems to include a hot tub full of champagne:

And up in Soho, your friendly neighbourhood sex shop is keeping up with the season:

Friday 23 December 2016

More inches

How quickly the relief of taking a decision - any decision - in the fog of options gives way to a realisation that bringing in a larger TV screen demands a bit more thought.

No surprise, perhaps, that it needs to be further away - especially when there are close-ups of talking heads that appear more than lifesize. The few inches further away of this arrangement aren't enough yet: it will need the courage to trust wall mounts on these walls.

It's interesting to see how much has changed in just a few years. The underlying concept of the latest smart TVs is that they are a sort of super-tablet; live TV may still have "channels", but streaming over the internet requires "apps", and the interface to get to them is kept simple (to the point of simplistic, with brightly-coloured and minimally-labelled buttons, which on a screen this size appear huge). What with that and the idiot-proof quick set-up, you don't need an eight-year-old to explain how to use it - you become one.

An additional surprise is that this particular manufacturer (Panasonic) has managed to secure access to apps for news in French and German from their primary broadcasters, and one for documentaries in several languages from Arte, the Franco-German culture channel. That's quite enough to explore without taking on the ones that require additional subscriptions.

Friday 9 December 2016


This is not some overrated piece of modern art, simply an attempt to mock up different sizes of TV screen to see how they might fit in. The existing one (temporarily parked on the floor) has taken to grumbling and wheezing on being asked to start up. It's served me well for eight years, and plugging in a replacement digital recorder/tuner that can take high-definition channels and internet services has given it a new lease of life - when it at last settles down after a few minutes. Realistically, though, it may give up altogether sometime soon.

Looking for the next advance in technologies reveals that simply to replace what I have now and to add some on-demand internet services means upgrading from the old 26" to a 32" screen; but for the full high-def, scroll-back/catch-up set-up, there's nothing less than a 40" (and even then it may not have the connectors for all the old technologies I'd want to plug in). Do I really want a window on the world (especially with the world as it is) to dominate my living room to that extent? Would it help to mount it on the wall (if I trusted the wall to hold it), or would there be room room if the clutter around it were tidied up and rearranged? Talk about a First World problem.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there's the sound of Miss Jean Brodie on the opening of a more literal window - "Six inches is perfectly adequate. More is vulgar."

Saturday 26 November 2016


Seen at our local DLR station. It remains to be seen whether any shepherds will be delighted. Definitely time for scurrying home to pull the curtains and butter toast.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

I seem to have missed World Toilet Day (which is probably just as well, as the temptation to ribaldry is too great for what is after all a serious subject), but today is a day for a different celebration, as the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

She'd have to have the patience of a saint to cope with the output of an electronic keyboard that has just taken up residence in my flat - were it not for the fact that it comes with headphones (one has to think of the neighbours). Years ago I was "put to the piano", and lost touch with it, but now it's time to see if whether there's any satisfaction to be got from trying to take it up again.

So far, the ability to recognise what all that notation means has come back surprisingly quickly: and there's the additional toy factor of being able to switch the output sound to organ, harpsichord or vibraphone at the touch of a button, which adds a certain novelty. However, knowing what keys to touch when, and how, doesn't guarantee that the fingers will actually get there and on time - and yes, I do realise what will be needed to produce all the right notes and all in the right order:

Apologies for the advert at the beginning...

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Saturday 29 October 2016

If you say so....

Tube stations have developed quite a reputation, and a certain competitive spirit, because of the various uplifting or humorous thoughts written on their temporary announcement boards.

But at Tottenham Court Road, this vague but ominous statement has been sitting by one of the exits for several weeks.

Whatever it is we're enjoined not to do, nobody seemed deterred.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Season's greetings

One gets inured to seeing Christmas packages of chocolates and biscuits before the end of October (and after all, there's no close season on either of those) - but, really.......... Christmas-themed loo paper?

Thursday 20 October 2016

Everyone's a critic

You spend who knows how much time, ingenuity, sweat, tears and money developing some technological marvel - and then there's always someone to point out you've missed a bit:

Tuesday 18 October 2016

First world problem

Staring in frustration at the library's book-recording computer (always a bit temperamental) as it insists it can't recognise the barcode on my card.

Until I realise it's my Waitrose loyalty card (well, they do look very similar from the back).

Tuesday 4 October 2016

A learning experience....

Always double-check the packaging.

Having been organised enough to anticipate the impending emptiness of my last packet of coffee, I took the latest purchase out of the freezer, only to find it was a packet of beans rather than ground for filtering.

What's more, I have no coffee grinder. A food processor (slices, grates and liquidises, but that's about it); a stick blender (no, I don't think coffee soup would work); but no coffee grinder as such.

And then I remembered a Christmas gift from years ago. Out from under an accumulation of old, half-used spice packets (I dare not reveal how old) came the pestle and mortar. Five minutes' or so of vigorous pestling (or mortaring) produced something close to a brewable powder.

The results were palatable enough; and a tiny bit of exercise to boot. I call that a small victory, Or a score-draw at least.

Friday 30 September 2016

If anyone still clings to outdated assumptions about classical music and the announcers on BBC Radio 3, then a quick trip to their temporary pop-up studio at the Festival Hall will soon put them to rights. The permanent studios may be better appointed, but in their little box, apart from a striking high-tech clock display, the electronics are confined to anonymous black boxes, and the desk is like anyone else's: breakfast cereals, coffee cups and in this case a screensaver of a very fluffy cat.

As ever, the Hall had plenty of other things going on, in particular a chance to try the virtual orchestra: a virtual reality headset puts you in the front row of the Philharmonia Orchestra's violins, right under the conductor - unless you choose to look around the 360° 3-D display. Not, perhaps, quite high-definition enough to be totally immersive, but still impressive. Perhaps one day we could experience whole concerts like this (but they'll have to make wearing the headsets a less sweaty experience).

Just to complete the cultural delights of the day, the new occupant of Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth has just been unveiled - a gigantic, elongated thumbs up. I'm not sure if it's to be taken superficially as intended to make everyone feel good about life, art and the universe (for the artist it is - you can buy a replica from a tent on Trafalgar Square for a mere £25 a pop) - or a satirical comment on superficial optimists. Pick your angle right and you might think the elongated thumb looks suspiciously like a middle finger.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Metereological autumn begins with a busy weekend of events. On Saturday morning, the Great River Race, with its usual complement of picturesque flags, colourful boats and funny costumes (though some contestants were earnestly doing their stretching exercises when I went past the launching point).

Later on, the weather was doing its best to make up for the pyro-friendly conditions it set up for the Great Fire of London 350 years ago this weekend. The anniversary is being marked by a major festival events. One of these was a "domino topple" of breeze blocks, symbolising the speed and extent of the fire's spread. Starting, not quite in Pudding Lane like the fire, but from the Monument nearby, down Fish Street Hill to Lower Thames street, then up again towards Bank, Cornhill and Cheapside (setting off  second and third streams towards St Paul's and Cripplegate en route), snaking its way along the streets, through back alleys, squares and markets, and even through buildings.

Since the topple was moving too fast for the following spectators, I went another way up towards Bishopsgate to catch it at a later point. It had been set up to emerge from the back alleys through the Cross Keys pub and across and then up the street from there, but even quite a small crowd filled up the available viewing space. Traffic was of course blocked off in both directions and some drivers were making their impatience evident, much to the amusement of the man on the Stop-Go sign: "I'm paid more the longer I stay here!". A further diversion found a less crowded spot in Leadenhall Market, and eventually the stream appeared and disappeared up towards London Wall.

Next up will be the burning on the Thames of a wooden replica of mediaeval London, but I rather suspect the crowds and weather will make it the kind of even best seen on a screen - and it's being livestreamed online, thank goodness.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Cave or café?

This seeming cleft in a cliff is actually the entrance to this year's Serpentine Pavilion, the annual temporary architectual experiment and café at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park.

It's something to aim for as the object of a long bike ride across town, all the easier now they've finished the dedicated "cycle superhighway" along the Embankment (all Dutch-style separated roadspace and dedicated traffic light phases).

Seen from other angles, the Pavilion is not so much of a dark cavern. Since it's made of open fibreglass boxes, presumably quite light and easy to bolt together quickly, it's light and airy inside: though the breeziness might lose its charm on other sorts of summer day.

In the past, the pavilion has been a throwback to the 70s in style,  a cloister hidden by a dark corridor, and a cork-lined hobbit-hole, among others; the last one I went to see was a Meccano puzzle, which like this year's almost invited exploratory climbing.

But these fibreglass boxes presumably don't sustain much additional weight, or more likely the potential for a painful tumble is too great, because there were attendants posted to warn off any adventurous toddlers (of any age).

And there were some things worth seeing on the ride there, too:

Monday 22 August 2016

Mystery in Mile End Park

Cycling along the Regent's Canal, one gets used to the narrowboats moored alongside, and they seem to be more numerous than ever this summer. Mostly they look almost as purely functional as they did in their cargo-carrying heyday, even if their interiors might be well and truly spruced up as mobile homes with all mod. con. Some are clearly only being used as temporary, rough-and-ready or even downright scruffy boltholes for the knit-your-own-bicycle artistic set. I've seen the odd mobile café and bookshop as well.

They all look ready to move, as indeed they mostly must: "home moorings" aren't that common and are expensively over-subscribed, and only a maximum stay of 14 days is allowed anywhere else.

But then one day there was this - a complete garden occuping every square inch of roof and the minimal decking. Not, you might think, the most easily moved. Canals may not be prone to massive waves and washes, with a maximum permitted speed of 4mph, but it would only take a small bump in a lock or a sharpish turn to topple over a few pots and statuettes.

Nevertheless, a few days later, it had gone, or at least, none of the boats on view had anything like this degree of decoration. If they put all this lot inside, there wouldn't be much room for anything or anyone else: so where did it all go?

Click to enlarge

Saturday 6 August 2016

Signs of the times

Seen along the cycle path into town today:

Since this is on one of the most mediocre, not to say scruffy, buildings in the area, I suppose they would know

I haven't the faintest idea what this is for; it appears to be on every new cyclist-specific trafffic light, but if they want people to give it due deference and obedience, perhaps it should say "Cyclists stay aweful" - but that doesn't sound right at all.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Something to look forward to

This trailer on TV reminds me of the kind of notice that used to appear occasionally at my school: "Tuesday will be Wednesday ALL DAY". It all made sense in context, but stand back and it's decidedly peculiar.

Sunday 31 July 2016

Hair today

On one of those days where walking almost anywhere in central London makes you think the collective noun for tourists is "a drift", circumstances enforce attention to local detail.

Such as this particular poster, in the little bit of Soho now branded as Chinatown. With bunting of the flag of what used to called Red China fluttering overhead, I suppose the name is explicable.

But in among the photos of hairstyle models, there's no picture of the man himself. I wonder why?

Karl Marx - hairstyle model. Or maybe not.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Thursday 30 June 2016

A modern political career...

(For those who haven't followed the ins and outs of all this, the links will explain....)

1. The Mop-headed Buffoon becomes Our Beloved Mayor®
2. After eight years of achieving or initiating... well, not a lot, Our Beloved Mayor® becomes the Great White Shark circling No. 10
3. Seizing his opportunity, the Great White Shark attempts to position himself as the nation's Great White Hope, resuming an earlier persona as the asbestos-pantied promoter of dubious tales about the EU, only this time not so much as a wizard jape, as with actual serious consequences
4. On realising that the consequences might be more serious than he thought (despite what so many people had been telling him), the Great White Hope starts retreating from his taller tales
5. When his bestest friend turns out to have been marched on to the playground to take his ball  away, the Great White Hope becomes the Mop-Headed Poltroon and wanders off to.....
6. ..... next stop - the Paul Gascoigne comedy circuit?

And these people think they are educated, trained, entitled to run the country?

Wednesday 29 June 2016

So in this brave new world (or strange new limbo), where those who won don't appear to be quite sure whether they really wanted whatever it is they have won, if they could only decide what it is, and those who lost don't know what to do next, what certainties are there?

Death and taxes, of course, according to Benjamin Franklin (or Daniel Defoe). To which, as after every other trip abroad, I have to add, as neither of them did (but that's eighteenth-century patriarchy for you)..... laundry.

And showing one's holiday snaps (even if they are curiously similar to every other year's):
Stubaital - the Rütz-Katarakt
Stubaital- mountain meadow

Munich - Alte Pinakothek

Thursday 23 June 2016

From my point of view...

I am still in Europe (Austria, to be precise).

Saturday 11 June 2016

Ah, the great panoply of London life.... All the pomp and circumstance of Trooping the Colour for the Queen's 90th birthday this morning, and then the World Naked Bike Ride in the afternoon - and the rain (is it better to cycle in the rain clothed or in the nip? I fear the latter might cause some chafing).

Not that I went up to town to see either.

Instead, we have some visiting sailing ships to admire at Canary Wharf: the US Coastguard's Eagle and the Mexican Cuauhtemoc, quite putting the shame the plutocratic gin palaces moored behind them.