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Category archive: Travel

Tuesday January 13 2015

From time to time I go looking for pictures of bridges, preferably new ones, but seldom find anything I don’t know about.  And then, quite by chance, while clicking through these old photos, I chance upon this:

image

It’s the Golden Gate, being built, in 1937.

I recall doing a pen-an-ink type sketch (as opposed to something theatrical like a comedy sketch – odd double meaning that), when in my teens, of the Severn Road Bridge, when it only had a chunk of road in the middle, suspended in glorious isolation, going nowhere in either direction (like in the photo here).  This photo reminds me of those times.

I never actually drew any decent pictures, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about composition, by which I mean that I chose quite good pictures to do, but actually did them very badly.  Now I take good pictures, rather less badly.  How I wish there had been digital cameras when I was a teenager.  My cycling expeditions around France, and then Scandinavia, and then Iceland, would have been far more fun, and now far easier to remember.  The old cameras, with “film” in them, were ridiculous.  You had to “develop” all the damn pictures, very expensively, just to find out that about three of them weren’t total crap.  But you tell young people this nowadays they think you’re mad.  And if you did all this, guess what, you were mad.

I have never shared the contempt that most people show - or pretend to show - for Adolf Hitler’s paintings.  Okay, so they aren’t Rembrandts, but even so, I would have loved to have been as good hand-done picture-making as he was.  Could it be that people just can’t bear to accept that he ever did anything well or anything good?  Just a wild guess.

Wednesday December 31 2014

My journey from home to Quimper in Brittany involved a nervewracking change in Paris.  I only had an hour and a half to get from Paris Nord to Paris Montparnasse, during which time I had to buy a Metro ticket as well as do the actual journey.  The Metro ticket was the scary bit.  The Metro ticket selling system at Paris Nord is or at least looked that day like in-your-face fuck-you nationalisation, on full throttle.  Three windows for selling.  One imperturbably relaxed seller, at one open window, like in a British high street bank of the sort that is bullying you to do everything online.  A queue like something in old Moscow when a meat shipment was rumoured to have arrived, caused by two trains having just arrived at Paris Nord, mine being one.  Luckily there was also a slightly shorter queue for a machine, and by begging help from the lady in front of me, I managed to extract a ticket from the machine, and I then sped to Montparnasse.  On the way back, I will buy a ticket on the train from Quimper to Paris, which I can apparently do.  I will have four hours to make that work.  Should be enough.

At Montparnasse, I of course had an hour to kill, and although I had a good book with me, I killed the hour by taking photos like this:

image

That was taken quite high up in the Montparnasse station, through thick glass, hence the linear interruption and the yellow reflections.  But, being high up, I got a better view of a little of the magnificent roof clutter that Paris offers.  Those chimneys, with their pointy tops like something in a fairy tale book, are unlike anything I have seen or at any rate noticed in London.

Here is another picture which I took just before the one above:

image

Here we see a roof clutter refinement which I do not recall seeing in London much either, namely an illuminated sign right in front of whatever other roof clutter is behind it, advertising the business down below.  Given how I adore roof clutter and am also very fond of signs, this photo gave and gives me deep pleasure.

In among more formal expeditions to local beauty spots, I have got to walk around a bit in Quimper, of which I am very fond.  Back from some walk on the beach, somewhere or other, I had my hosts drop me off in the centre of town and I walked back in the amazing late afternoon sunshine.

In among much else, I took more roof clutter pictures, like this ...:

image

… and this:

image

The first is good because it shows more chimney pots.  The second I include for artistic impression.  I just like how it looks.

But what interests me about this clutter, aside from mere prettiness, is that whereas the chimney pots seem to be specific to France, the electronic stuff is the sort of thing that I recognise from the UK.  It would appear that a TV aerial is a TV aerial, anywhere in the UK or France.  Ditto a satellite dish.  How much do these things vary in the rest of the world?

Tuesday December 30 2014

I have swapped one kind of computing confusion, too complicated even to describe, for another, and am now using a French keyboard, but telling the computer I am using that this keyboard is really British.  This means various letters on the keyboard being in the wrong place, such as the Q and the A, which are where the A and the Q ought to be.  There are other confusions, of a more serious sort.

This is a very peculiar experience for a touch typist like me, because it means that I can now only touch type.  I cannot pause and go find the correct letters, because I do not know them, or not the ones that cause all the trouble.  Only my fingers do.

So it is touch typing, or no typing at all.

Which is better than French typing, but still very imperfect, because some of the regular British things are things which my fingers are not that good at, most notably inverted commas, both single and double.  This is why I said it is in the previous paragraph rather than abbreviating it, and why I am saying it is in this sentence, twice, without any inverted commas to indicate that I am quoting myself.

I seem to recall that faced with this dilemma on a previous French expedition, I had to make do with the computer recognising the French keyboard I was using as French, which meant switching As and Qs, etc.  The alternative arrangement is somewhat better, but only somewhat.

Luckily my fingers know how to do two important things, neither of which are in the same place on these keyboards, namely commas, and full stops.

Another oddity is that the spellchecking in my blog input process demands that all words be recognisably French, and so underlines most words, because of them not being French, thus rendering itself inutile, and yes that is how you spell inutile.  But, sorry about all the other spelling errors in this.

Monday December 29 2014

I am able to keep on posting each day, but it is proving tricky.  So best to expect interruptions during the next few days.  I have taken tons of photos, over the course of two cloudless days, but posting any of them is really complicated, and even telling which are the good ones is hard because the screen I am trying to use is too vague for me to tell properly.

To add to those woes, the text posting process has a bizarre quirk on this computer, or maybe it is with this mouse.  Which is that the cursor is liable, without warning, to jump back several words, which makes touch typing as hard as it is usually easy.  As soon as I get up any speed, I find that I am typing stuff in the wrong place, as I just did in the middle of the word “stuff” back there.  Then it did it again.  (Inverted commas are a struggle too.)

I guess it’s called home advantage.  I have not now got it.  So I am, as of now, more than usually definite about promising nothing, because nothing is what you may very well get until I am back home, and back enjoying home advantage.

Sunday December 28 2014

When in France, I have no particular desire to do as the French do.  I have my own agendas.  So, for instance, French people do not make a point of photoing French posters advertising British or American films in the Paris Metro.  But, I like to do this:

image

I am using an alien computer.  Contriving the above photo-display took some doing.  Were I using my own computer I might have cropped that photo.  As it is, it is as it was when it came out of my camera.

Mostly, I just like the thought that we are making movies that they consider good enough to show in Paris.  But I think I am also interested in what sort of picture of my country they are seeing.  I’m guessing it is one that they want to see.  In this case, for example, they are see us Anglos being, although quite good looking, also boring, disgusting, uncultured and gross, and generally behaving like people upon whom wealth is wasted.  Not wanting to see Anglos in this light myself, I have not seen this movie, so I may be entirely wrong about what it is like.

But if it is not like that, they shouldn’t have called it that.  As a general rule, it is surely good business to take your movie look in the posters (and sound in its title) the way it actually is, because that way the people who will be attracted to it by the poster will then enjoy it, and the word of mouth will be good.  Many a movie is not what they first advertised it as, and hence was denounced by its early audiences, but was good in some other way, and ended up appealing to quite other people.  Had they advertised it more accurately to start with, they’d have done better business.

Saturday December 27 2014

Indeed.  Tomorrow I will try to post something more substantial.  But as for today, I’m afraid, a posting saying that that is it is it.

Sunday November 16 2014

Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones.  My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it.  (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)

A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour.  But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.

Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year.  Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:

image

The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much.  Google google.  Here we go.  The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question.  It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.

But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people.  It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people.  For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter.  Or … not.  Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.

Not for most people.  Just for some people.  And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.

In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.

Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.

Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:

image

Now that may not seem very interesting.  But it interests me greatly.  It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was.  For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way.  The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.

Judging by this photo ...:

image

… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground.  These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms.  Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.

A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line.  They were rhapsodising.  It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on.  And I agree with them.  Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.

And that was just inside a tube train.  When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours.  Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube.  That is quite a difference.  I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me.  At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.

Wednesday October 29 2014

See number 4 of these mistranslations.  See also, number 2: “RACIST PARK”; number 9: “BAG OF SHIT”; number 16: “Deformity Toilet”; and number 19 (which I have seen before I’m almost sure): “Translate server error”.

Got this via here, of all places, the one he chose being number 6: “Entrance only with Herr Hitler”.

Sunday August 17 2014

I departed for France on Tuesday August 5th.

My flight from London City Airport to Quimper in Brittany was due for lift off at 11.40am, so I obviously had to leave home at about 9.20am, thereby reaching City Airport as early as I could without having to pay for the journey.  (Old Git passes only cut in at 9.30am, or such is my understanding.) We infrequent flyers can’t be too careful.  I would far rather wait two hours at an airport while reading a good book than endure any fear of missing my flight at any point on my journey to the airport, still less actually risk missing it.

One way to get to London City Airport would have been to take the District Line to Tower Hill, and then the D(ocklands) L(ight) R(ailway) from then onwards, with just the one (somewhat complicated) change.  But my computer said it would be quicker to change twice, first at Westminster from the District Line to the Jubilee Line, and then again at Canning Town to the DLR.  The Jubilee Line is quicker than the trundlingly antique District Line and quicker than the relatively new but cautiously robotic DLR, and it may also have realised that both these changes are far easier than the one change from Tower Hill (District) to Tower Gateway (?) (DLR).  So, I changed at Westminster, and again at Canning Town.

All of which explains why, when I got to Canning Town, and was awaiting the DLR train on to City Airport, I got to see this:

image image

I couldn’t believe my luck.  I hadn’t even left London, yet already I was beholding once-in-a-lifetime wonders!  For yes, your eyes do not deceive you.  That is a crane, holding a bridge.  I love cranes, especially when they are doing something interesting.  I love bridges, especially new ones and especially when they are still being built.  So you can imagine my delight at observing a bridge being craned into position, by a crane.  And all of this presented to me as if by a performer who is determined to communicate to the maximum effect with his audience, assembled on the top deck of Canning Town Tube/DLR station.

On the left there, the first picture I took.  On the right, a later picture which shows where the bridge was about to be deposited.  There are two bright red bits, the same bright red as the bridge itself, clearly at each end of where the bridge would shortly be.

All of this happened on Tuesday August 5th.  A day earlier and it would not have started.  A day later and it would have been a fait accompli, with the installed bridge presumably looking exactly as it looks now.  Only by being there exactly on August 5th, and only by choosing the exactly correct railway journey combination, was I able to observe this delight.

(Imagine if I had happened to sale past this, on August 14th 1999.)

My week in Brittany had got off to a great start.

Friday August 15 2014

Yes, I’ve been in France, and now I’m back.  Have been for several days actually, but I spent my recent blogging time doing this, which is a photo-decorated ramble on various things I saw in France, or thought I did, for Samizdata.

I really want to get back into the swim of things over there, after a recent dry spell, and was accordingly determined to finish that ramble before I resumed rambling here.

Since this is Friday, here are some French cats.

Cat number one stands outside Vannes town hall:

image

Cat number two is impressively perched on an impressively high ledge, somewhere or other.  Cat number three, the cat of the friends I was staying with, is shown here, not being very impressed with cat number two:

image

This photo was taken by Tony, to whom thanks, and to whom thanks also for emailing it to me.

Here, on the other hand are two further photos that I did take of cat number three:

image image

No, I don’t know why his right ear is green on the inside.  I only noticed this when I got home.

His name is Caesar (sp?), and he actually does answer to that name.  It’s not tone of voice, it’s the name, because when I said this to him for the first time, he immediately looked up to see what I had in mind.

There is another cat, Basil, who drops by at the home of Tony et famille from time to time, but he is more shy.  He was otherwise engaged, on my last day there which was when I finally decided I wanted to photo the two cats.  Caesar showed up, but not Basil.  Another time, maybe.

Caesar is now very old, and I may never meet with him again.  We got on well.

Monday June 16 2014

Indeed:

image

Taken by?  No prizes for guessing who.  Country?  “Poland/Georgia”.  Date?  “Jan/Feb” of this year.  That’s what it said in the email.

Sunday June 15 2014

Mick Hartley writes about England’s loss to Italy last night in their opening World Cup game:

Much football punditry has always seemed to me to be an effort to provide a plausible post-hoc storyline for what was to a considerable extent a matter of chance.  … as though the whole enterprise must be made sense of by virtue of the winning team being the team that deserved to win.

Very true.  (I’m guessing that, with luck (ho ho), this book will have a lot more to say about this tendency.) Actually, much of the appeal of football (to those to whom it appeals) is that the “best” team on the day often doesn’t win.  This means that the supporters of bad teams can live in constant hope of upsets.

This also explains why, at the early stages of a season, surprising teams are often at the top of the table.  Later, the law of averages asserts itself inexorably, and the best teams arrange themselves in logical order at the top, and the surprise early leaders sink back into the pack where they belong.

All of which makes something like the World Cup quite good fun.  All you have to do to win it is win five or six of your first six games.  All the best teams have to do not to win is lose one or two of their first six games.  One of the great moments of all World Cups is the one when a Much Fancied Team gets on its Early Plane Home.

What the pundits seem to have been saying about England is that, because the “expectation level” is low, they might do quite well.  The expectation level is low so it’s high, in other words.  My take on England is that they are a fairly bad team, who played fairly well against Italy, and lost, and that they will probably do fairly badly, but you never know, because there are only half a dozen games for each team to play.  I will video-record all of England’s games, such as they are, just in case.  I live in hope of a small series of upsets.

I also video-recorded the Spain Netherlands game, by far the most remarkable one so far.  Will Spain be this time around’s Much Fancied Team early departure home?

And I also videoed the first game, between Brazil and Croatia, with its truly dire opening ceremony.  This was a real collector’s item of awfulness.  What is it about these terrible opening ceremonies, with their meaningless costumes and absurd dance moves?  Witnessing them is like listening to someone talking in a language has only recently been invented - for aliens to speak in a movie, for instance - which consists of no actual words, only meaningless sounds.

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London contained many things I disagreed with, and I continue to disagree with the entire principle of me and all other anti-Olympickers having to pay for the damn thing for the next thousand years.  But at least that ceremony contained stuff that meant something.  Although come to think of it, maybe the only people who understood it was us Brits, and for countless mllions elsewhere, that was also the gibbering of aliens.

Friday June 13 2014

I went on a photo-expedition to Erith, last Tuesday.  Well, strictly speaking, from Erith.  What I did was go to Erith by train, and then walk back along the south side of the river, to Woolwich.

I took about a thousand photos, truly about a thousand, of which the one below was one of the first.  My journey to Erith by train started at London Bridge Station, and this photo was taken at that station, while I awaited my train to Erith.

image

This guy has the full story of this strange circumstance.

First off, he notes, it’s not a V2.  It’s a sixties vintage Atlas booster.  So, what gives?  Someone, he pointed out, is looking after this object, so it must be there for a reason.  But, what reason?

A commenter explains:

It’s advertising the Britain at War experience below London Bridge Station.

And all is explained.  That link no longer works, on account of the Britain at War Experience having now been closed down, on account of the redevelopment around London Bridge Station.  But advertising the Britain at War Experience is how it got to be there.

Maybe the Not-V2 will soon start to look at bit tatty.  It may even vanish altogether.  All the more reason to photo it now.

Thursday June 12 2014

I plan to be going to the land of the foreign people.  Quite soon.  Early August.  The air tickets are already bought.  But, have just discovered that my passport needs renewing.  It gave up the ghost in about February.

Bugger.  Passports are just now being particularly delayed.  Questions are being Asked In The House about it.  So I guess they are now throwing money at the problem.

There is also a throw money at it option for us punters, about an extra hundred quid, which I have in mind to use, just to make sure that all goes well.  But first I have to get a haircut and then I have to get some “passport photos” done.  I know how to take photos of myself.  I do not know how to take “passport photos”.  This is why God invented shops.

Monday June 02 2014

September 18th 2013, Stanford-Le-Hope, late afternoon:

image

I was thinking that this blog is becoming a bit like another, substitute London Daily Photo.  But that isn’t right.  Ham used to report on lots of different London things and London stories.  I keep on photoing the same kinds of things again and again.  Besides which, Stanford-Le-Hope is a bit too far from London to be London.  It’s about an hour out of here by train.

I went looking, of course, for cranes, but the north bank of the Thames Estuary is also pylon spotter heaven.