Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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If anyone still clings to outdated assumptions about classical music and the announcers on BBC Radio 3, then a quick trip to their temporary pop-up studio at the Festival Hall will soon put them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.