31 August, 2006

Alexandra Palace,London

The Palm Court of Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace is, jointly with Hampstead Heath, the highest point in London. It is the place where the BBC started the world's first television service from in 1936 and it remained the BBC's main transmitting centre up to 1956. The original building had been destroyed by a fire just 16 days after it opened in 1873. It was rebuilt in under two years but burnt down again in 1980. The current building mainly dates from 1988 but the section where the BBC operated from dates from 1875.
Alexandra Palace from the air.
It is now an entertainment complex with exhibition halls, an ice rink, concert halls and a fun-fair, although it still has a transmitting mast. The most spectacular views of London are to be had from there and the whole complex is set in 196 acres of beautiful parkland which is protected by an Act of Paliament that guarantees it's use for the general public.
The tall buildings in the distance are in the City of London and there are similar views in most directions.

29 August, 2006

My Heroes: (13) Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell 1621-1678
Marvell is included in this series because of one fabulous poem that he wrote. If you would like to know more about his interesting life click here. However my personal admiration is based purely on this, his most famous work which I have reproduced below. Don't be decieved by the language of this poem; it's message is 'Get your knickers off. Now!'
To His Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews;
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor in thy marble vault shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity;
And you quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power,
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

My Heroes: (12) Antoni Gaudi

1852 - 1926
Antoni (sometimes known as Antonio) Gaudi was an architect most of whose work is in Barcelona, Spain. As a child he suffered with severe rheumatism and had to ride on a donkey to move around. Because he consequently moved rather slowly he became very observant of nature and developed a keen interest in it. It is believed that this strongly influenced his architectural style, which is generally categorised as being Art Nouveau but it is really rather unique. Art Nouveau is characterised by flowing lines as found in nature and a kind of anthropomorphic look in architecture. In Great Britain it is exemplified by the works of Charles Rennie Macintosh and Aubrey Beardsley. In the United States Louise Comfort Tiffany is probably it’s most famous exponent
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
His most famous building is La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) Basilica in Barcelona. It is a huge church, not a cathedral, and it was Gaudi's last great work and his masterpiece. It was concieved in the nineteenth century and work began in the 1880's and it continues to this day. When I saw it a couple of years ago many parts were covered in scaffolding. It is the most amazing sight which is visited by many hundreds of thousands of people every year - the detail is remarkable and it's humble architect, a devout Catholic, spent his last years working on it. He was run over by a tram in 1926 and died a few days later. He had been taken to a paupers hospital because he was dressed in rags.

27 August, 2006

St Pauls Cathedral, London

Since 604AD this is the fourth Cathedral to occupy this spot overlooking the City of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after the previous building had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666). There are many existing London churches built to designs by Wren who had started his career as a mathematician and scientist and finished it as an astronomer. The most fascinating thing about this buiding is the dome, which weighs 65,000 tons and presented an engineering problem for Wren because a dome will exert tremendous outward as well as downward pressure. The 'secret' of how it stays in place is a huge chain around the outside of the dome (covered in Portland stone, the building material of the cathedral) which grips the dome to restrain outward movement.

Inside view of the dome.

The Whispering Gallery - the most famous of the galleries and the only one on the inside, has been described as one of the most amazing acoustical oddities in the world, because if you talk in a loud whisper facing the wall on one side you can be heard clearly on the diagonally opposite side.

St Paul’s is the cathedral of the Diocese of London and is the nations spirtual focal point. The funeral services of Nelson, Wellington and Churchill were held there as was the celebration of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, Charle's and Diana's Wedding and the memorial service for 9/11.

Sir Christopher Wren is also buried there, in a very plain grave. On the wall at the head of his tomb is a plain inscription, in Latin, arranged by his son. It translates as If you seek his monument, look around you. Wren himself had not wanted a memorial at all.

26 August, 2006

My Heroes: (11) Homer Simpson

Well, OK. Homer isn't exactly the hero type but I want to celebrate The Simpsons in general and Homer in particular. As Bart Simpson once said of Krusty, it's "funny on so many levels". The Simpsons seems to be a format in which it's creators can super-impose all sorts of pastiches of popular culture but you can still watch an episode in ignorance of that and enjoy the humour that is both visual (cartoon slapstick) and cerebral (dialogue). There is a huge company of background characters that can be bought out as required to suit any situation. Krusty the Klown, serves as the stereotypical cynical showbiz type and the Comic Book Shop Guy is the sarcastic self-delusional nerd but Homer is the real star. I think there's a little bit of Homer in every man's character. Blimey.

25 August, 2006

Will you tell him or shall I?

If you don't know what this post is about click here

23 August, 2006

My Heroes: (10) Sir Winston Churchill

"Commeth the Hour, Commeth the Man"

Churchill was surrounded by many myths during and since his long career. He did make all of his speeches himself (not, as the myth has it, via the voice of an actor). He produced possibly the greatest piece of oratory of all time, when, in only his fourth speech to the House of Commons, at a time when Great Britain stood alone against the German axis. The Members of Parliament were sceptical about Churchill. He had been seen as a bit of a political maverick up until that time and he needed their support. I do not usually produce long posts, believing that shorter ones are more effective but on this occasion I am reproducing a chunk of that superb speech. It will be a hard man or woman who is not moved by it. The speech opened with a factual account of the French collapse and the evacuation from Dunkirk and he gave details of the home defense:
"...I, myself, have confidence that, if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves, once again, able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone "
At this point the House became hushed. He had their attention. He continued:
"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen, or may fall, into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all it's power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."
He had stunned his audience, who then gave him a spectacular ovation.
The USA, of course, did enter the war but not until after Pearl Harbour, 18 months later.

Hold The Front Page!

I've just seen on the BBC (so it must be true) that John Wells, Professor of Phonetics at the University of London, has backed up claims by dairy farmers that cows "moo with regional accents"! This was noticed by members of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers group, who put it down to the close bond between farmer and cow. Their claim that the cows mooed with a Somerset 'twang' has been verified. Prof. Wells said "This phenomena is well attested in birds. You find distinct chirping accents in the same species around the country. This could also be true of cows. In small populations such as herds you would encounter identifiable dialectical variations which are most affected by the immediate peer group."

19 August, 2006

My Heroes: (9) Michel de Montaigne


Montaigne was born in Bordeaux, France, the son of a wealthy Catholic landowner & lawyer and a Spanish Jewish mother who was bought up as a Protestant. He virtually invented the essay as a form of writing and he used himself as a subject by means of searingly honest introspection. His writings were originally seen as self-indulgent but he was a strong influence on Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Rousseau and particularly Descartes.

What really draws my attention to him is the broad range of subjects that he wrote about and the very modern style that the essays still seem to have. They are very easy and rewarding to read on topics such as "On the Power of the Imagination" which detours for an hilarious discussion of farting before returning to it's stated topic. (Added 27th August: He was classically educated and his works are peppered with Latin quotations and references, All translated, of course, but it is worth persevering.) He was modest and unassuming, even pondering at one time to consider whether or not, when he played with his cat, it was her playing with him. To give an idea of his scope here are some of his essay titles: "Of Drunkeness", "Of Cannibals", "Of Thumbs", "That To Study Philosophy IsTo Learn To Die", "How we weepe and laugh at one selfe-same thing" and so on.

16 August, 2006

Farningham, Kent, England

A row of cottages in Farningham with one house almost hidden by flowers.

Kent is known as 'The Garden of England' being full of fruit farms, hop fields and garden centres. I came across this row of cottages today and the sight of it is overwhelming with one of the dwellings almost completely hidden by flowers. Farningham is a picturesque village not far from London and it has an interesting history. It's population was 561 in 1821, 1328 in 1901 and remains about the same as that today. It is on the River Darent and was a neolithic and, later, a Roman settlement. (See my post on St Albans.) Several Roman Villas have been excavated nearby and archeologists have identified a neolithic footpath that passes through the Darent Valley. Charles Dickens used to fish for trout in the Darent.

Farningham Parish Church. 13th Century

Farningham is mentioned in the Domesday Book which was compiled by William the Conqueror and completed in 1086. The church pictured above was started in 1240 with the tower being added in the 15th century. By the 19th century there were six stage-coaches per day stopping in Farningham which had become a thriving community. Many of it's present day structures date from the 18th and 19th centuries.

14 August, 2006

My Heroes: (8) Michael Johnson

In 1996 Michael Johnson become the first man to win the 200m and the 400m in the same Olympics. In fact, no other athlete has won a 200m as well as a 400m Olympic Gold Medal. He was also the first man to retain the 400m title, at Sydney in 2000. He still holds the world records for both events and he had a spell between 1989 and 1997 when he won 58 consecutive 400m races.
He had an unusual, upright, running style with fairly low uplift and minimum arm-swing. Once when asked why he did not run in the same way as other athletes he said, "If I did I would be back there with them"!
Now he works as a commentator on athletics, mainly for the BBC where his knowledge, genial disposition and clear insight into all track events and competitors puts him, in my opinion, once again at the peak of his profession.

12 August, 2006

Adventure Island, Southend-on-Sea

Southend-on-Sea is on the Thames Estuary in Essex about 35 miles from London and is east London's favourite place for a day-trip to the sea. I went there yesterday, with my daughter Ruth and her twins Jacob & Zack, to the Adventure Island playground. The boys were ecstatic and had a great time although they spent much of the time walking around with their hands over their ears because they didn't like the noise which was mostly generated by the screams of teenaged girls on the roller-coaster.
They are very well-behaved boys and always say "please", "thank you" and "you're welcome" but kids don't get that way naturally so it's credit to Ruth. They had terrific fun on the rides and were fascinated by the dodgem cars and go-karts. We all went in the Crooked House which has passages with sloping floors so that you find yourself falling against the walls. Before coming home we visited Rossi's ice-cream shop and sat looking out to sea and spotting the ships.
For me, it was paradise to spend a day with my daughter and grandsons and when Zack said, unpromted, "I love you Grandad" my day was complete!

11 August, 2006

The Twins and Gaia

Zack, Gaia & Jacob
You can't beat a picture of happy children can you? This is the twins with their friend Gaia. Gaia is an interesting name, originally that of a of a Greek godess meaning 'Earth' and it is, of course, the name given by James Lovelock to his hypothesis that the Earth is a sort of perpetually self-repairing system.

08 August, 2006

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Row of six Alms Houses in St Albans. Built after 1627.
St Albans was founded by the Romans two thousand years ago on the site of an Iron Age settlement. That's quite some continuity. It's Roman name was Verularium and it was the third largest Roman city in England. It is only about 25 miles from the centre of London.
These Alms Houses were built to house the poor by Roger Pemberton, High Sheriff of Hertfordshire. He had accidently killed a poor widow with a bow and arrow and this was his way of atoning. If you have good eyesight you may be able to make out an arrow sticking up above the doorway. (To get a perfect picture I would have had to stand in the middle of the very busy road!). In his will he bequeathed some of his land for these homes to be built upon. The amazing thing is that today, nearly five hundred years later, they are still being used to house the indigent poor. They are the oldest brick built dwellings in St Albans which is an extremely interesting historical town.

06 August, 2006

My Heroes: (7) Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi. Born June, 1945
In 1967 Ms Kyi gained a degree from Oxford University in politics, philosophy and economics and lived in Britain as she was married to an Oxford professor untill, in 1988, she returned to her counrty of birth, Myanmar (Burma) to look after her dying mother. While there she was appalled at the poverty, corruption and lack of democrocy under the repressive military junta. She decided to enter politics under the strong influence of the non-violent philosophy of Mahatma Ghandi and when her party won 82% of the vote in the 1990 election the results were annulled and she was placed under house arrest. She was offered the chance to be set free if she would leave the country. She declined that offer and has spent about 10 of the last 16 years languishing under house arrest, but she is still defiant, refusing to step down from her comdemnation of the regime.
The government has stated as recently as July this year that “her days are numbered” and that she is “heading for a tragic end”. She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1991 "for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights". It strikes me as ironic that the regime in Rangoon remains in power while the world’s flimsy efforts to free her permanently are thwarted by her own non-violent protests. Is the conclusion to be that only violence would bring down this dictatorial regime?

04 August, 2006

Cezanne Again

These images are offered purely for the pleasure of it.

Arthur Lee (1945-2006)

If you have never heard of Arthur Lee or his band Love it will be worth reading this post. In 1968 they released an album called Forever Changes. There had been releases before and after that one but this was something special; it should be ranked alongside other seminal sixties recordings such as Sgt. Pepper, Revolver and Pet Sounds.
It is both melodic and hard-edged, has exquisite lyrics, is full of inventiveness and the songs have a haunting originality that has stayed with me ever since it was released. If you listen to the album a few times the same thing will happen to you. It comes into the category of 'West Coast psychedelic' or 'Folk Rock' but neither of those labels really quite fit because Forever Changes is so much more.
None of the songs mean what they appear to mean at first hearing and it will gradually become apparent that you are listening to a work of genius. Arthur Lee was a very troubled man, personally, and you can learn more about him and the band if you Google 'Arthur Lee' or you could click here.
Arthur died of leukemia on Thursday 3rd August. For me, the sixties have finally come to an end.

03 August, 2006

Quiz Question: Beatles Lyrics

The Beatles sang "money can't buy me love" but in another Lennon & McCartney song they contradicted themselves by singing:
"_ _ _ is the one thing that money can't buy" .
Name the song and the missing word.

(I have now posted the answer in the comments.)

02 August, 2006

William Morris House, London

William Morris House, LLoyd Park, Walthamstow, London

William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement lived in this house for twelve years in the mid-nineteenth century. Now it is a gallery and museum set into Lloyd Park in Walthamstow in London. The house is built in classic eighteenth century Georgian style. Georgian architecture is characterized by proportion and balance; as you can see this building is symmetrical. The ratio between the width and height of the windows would have been significant to engender the sense of harmony. Also it was usual to have features from one or other of the classical orders of architecture. You can't see it very well in my picture but there are two columns in the Corinthian style supporting the classical porticoed front door.

This garden is at the back of the house and is a part of Lloyd Park, now a public space but once part of the extensive grounds of the house. There is a garden hose-pipe ban at present in the Thames Water area around most of London. I think it would take a lot of watering cans to keep the lawn looking so good - compare it with the grass at the front in first picture!

This third picture is of the ornamental moat in the former grounds of the house. The bird near the top of the picture is a moorhen, easily identified by it's red and yellow bill. Just below her are two juvenile moorhens and in the foreground the ubiquitous Canada Goose. If you are interested in learning more about William Morris click here. I am sure he was a very worthy man but I find him, unlike his former home, rather dull.

01 August, 2006

Sonny Noah Glen

Sonny is 18 months old and a very bright little boy. He laughs, chuckles and smiles nearly all of the time. This photo catches him in a rare (relatively) serious moment. He loves to sing and play with his toy cars. In fact he will play with anything and is capable of amusing himself with a cardboard box for half an hour.
He doesn't know that the world does not revolve around him and I don't want to tell him! His parents and four grandparents adore him and would not be the least suprised if he turns out to be a genius; he will probably play soccer for Spurs and England and win at least one Nobel Prize for chemistry and/or literature, probably both.
His heroes are: Bob the Builder, Noddy, SpongeBob Squarepants, The Fimbles and his daddy, Lloyd.

My Heroes: (6) Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin 1809-1892
This post is not about the 'creationist' versus 'evolutionary science' debate but rather about Darwin himself and his personal qualities. Some will be surprised to learn that Darwin was deeply religious and as a young man studied at Cambridge University to become a clergyman but it is fair to say that as he developed his theories throughout his life his doubts continued to grow. Although he lost his Christian faith he insisted that he was an agnostic rather than an atheist, never dismissing the idea of a supreme intelligence over-riding creation. He was a sensitive and deeply caring man. His closeness to his children was distinctly un-Victorian in the way he dedicated so much of his time to them.
On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, many years after it was written, because Darwin was aware of what the reaction would be in Victorian England. He was right because public ridicule was the immediate reaction and the popular misconception that we 'are descended from the apes' is still an often-held view today. What he wanted to show was that we are descended from a common ancestor. That work is now considered the most important science book that the world has known.
Darwin was an unassuming and kind man who was pleasant and sincerely modest. For much of his adult life he suffered from an undiagnosed illness, possibly picked up during his voyage on the Beagle but he remained committed to the candid exploration of the natural and scientific world for the rest of his life. When he died in 1882 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.