Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Midnight Apothecary - Funky pop-up bar

                                Alfresco bar -       MIDNIGHT APOTHECARY -          link above

We'd just been to see the Brunel Museum as part of Open House London (you can go either on-line   or read through the printed directory of all sorts of buildings and spaces in London that are 'open to the public' for one weekend in September each year, and then go and look around, wander all over the place inside and outside, ask all sorts of questions of the guides, and generally be as nosy as you want. Even No 10 Downing Street - Theresa May's new gaff- were open to the public last weekend).

We went up onto the roof of the caisson that was Brunel's engineering gift to the world (no-one had made one before)  and there it was - a perfectly-formed alfresco bar. Lottie Muir from Saskatchewan (same place as Joni Mitchell) had this idea to grow her own fruit and veg on otherwise not-used land, and then make bar drinks using the organic result.

The garden is quite secluded even though it's in the middle of the former Docklands, on the south bank of the Thames between Tower Bridge and  Greenwich. Brunel's Museum is at the end of the first tunnel under a river in the world, opened in about 1845, and now used for the London Overground train. The museum itself is open throughout the year, but we saw it for the first time last Saturday.

garden on top of Brunel museum

Lottie's book

Looks fabulous, but we were too early for the evening bar (opens 5:30 pm) . . .

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

in praise of small green urban spaces

Recently we’ve been to a range of parks and here’s our take on what we found . . .

We’ve been hearing about Secret Park for a while now, and so we drove to Friern Bridge Retail Park on Sunday afternoon, where we met our friend Lynnsey. It’s very civilized with McDonalds and Costa and this park has its own Facebook page

Secret Park, in Scott’s photo above, has many advantages. It is green, it is local for people in Barnet, it is an oasis for people who don’t have much time to spare to get to a larger park, and it is landscaped and it is looked after by the local Council.
The photo shows it in its best light, green and park-like with an avenue to a hidden space beyond in your prospect.

This photo shows Woodberry Wetlands. This is near Manor House in London, a new RSPB bird sanctuary with a cafĂ© opened this Spring. No dogs are allowed as the park is so small and it is intended to be a resting place for wild migratory birds but entry is free and it is well-served by bus and Underground. 

A fantasic amount of hard work went into creating just the right environment to attract wild birds and it has paid dividends, as there were many nesting birds this spring and summer. It is s stunning place to visit and it has a range of plants and views to soothe the urban stress away.

Regent’s Park is an old park, created by designer John Nash in 1811 as part of the beautification of central London. The park has undergone many changes since it was created, but the almost quiet inner ring roads and the water features of both the spectacular boating lake as well as the Grand Union Canal passing through have made this into a special place for birds and water-fowl, as well as for people who live or work or visit near Regent Street and Oxford Street, just a short bus ride away. 

There’s a fantastic variety of mature trees along the paths and in copses, great formal gardens having a whole range of fragrant plantings, an agricultural college Capel Manor, an International college campus and of course London Zoo with the Childrens’ Zoo and the Aviary. 

When you are in this park you feel quite remote from the hurly-burly of London, which is only a quarter-mile distant. You can also choose to walk the towpath on the Grand Union Canal back to Camden, the local zeitgeist, sharing with narrow-boats (no horses today on the path, but cycles galore).

This photo show an ultimate park destination within England, North York Moors National Park. This is not near anywhere large and apart from the recent tree plantations, the farms and the heather from the grouse farming, this is the lay of the land from The Stone Age and the Iron Age. Glaciers passed through here 15,000 years ago, but they were the last major agent to change the landscape and it is still very fresh and windswept today. At night you really can see a million stars in the Milky Way.

Paths here include prehistoric ways across the moors going past tumuli enclosing the remains of ancient inhabitants, Roman roads and modern footpaths from mediaeval times, including well-maintained but nearly-deserted unclassified roads which are very picturesque with their meandering gait across and around the moorland fells and glens. Just the place to take our 1988 camper van . . .

I forgot to mention the steam railway that passes through it, from Pickering to Whitby . . .

This afternoon we’re going to London Olympic Park in Stratford, home to the 2012 Games. We’ve been there before and it’s great for cycling as there’s not too many cars (not much for cars to drive to in this park, even though it’s huge, as the shops are in the mall over to one side) and the River Lea runs down to the Thames through the park. The landscaping is fabulous and there are some innovative venues, like the VeloDrome, the Copper Box, the Aquatic Centre, and on and on.

London Cycling Campaign have a website on cycling and getting around the park, at

come along one day and surprise yourself, go up the lovely Arcellor Mittal Tower and down their super-slide, have a swim at the Aquatic centre or chill at the local eco-park

(there until December, when it moves on again.)

POSTSCRIPT - Yes, we did make it to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park this afternoon. It was VERY busy, lots of families with lots of children from babies through teenagers, all striding purposely around from one attraction to the next one in the brilliant hot summer sunshine.

This is the new SuperSlide down the Arcellor tower, what looks like a snake on the right. It's a lovely stainless steel vehicle about one metre across, but no windows, just a jet-propelled ride straight down the tube from the very top . . .

A number of people were abseiling down Arcellor tower this afternoon. This chap was slowly descending and he was about half of the way down, ratcheting his brake to propel himself. It looked quite safe but a wee bit vertigo-inducing. it costs an eye-watering £ 80 to book a place.

Much cheaper to go up in the lift, as Annette and I did, and then you can walk down the stairs, which is the light-coloured rectangular tube in front of our abseillor . . .

Our Olympic VeloDrome looks remarkably like the one in Rio. We went and had a boo inside. You can come here and use it yourself inside on a Wednesday. We saw a group learning to use the fixed-wheel track bikes here this afternoon.

I acquired a new tyre for my old red touring bike - did you know it is nearly impossible to buy a 27-inch tyre anymore, now that all the specifications have changed ?

They also have an outside track at the VeloDrome, and you can use your own bike on that for a small fee.

We carried on cycling through Hackney and ended up at our front door about 45 minutes later.

On the way we stopped so that I could have an ice-cream at our local and much-loved park, Clissold Park. Ten minutes on a bench soaking up the ambience of our new-ish Victorian parish church adjacent the St Mary's parish church listed in the Domesday Book, but which is just across the street

and we were ready to move on. This last photo is a short panorama shot using the swanky new iPhone SE.

Back home now and I'm changing the tyre on the old faithful touring bike. Should be good as new again soon . . .

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Woodberry Wetlands opens on 01 May . . .

Wet wild land just around the corner from Finsbury Park . . .
We went here just a couple of months ago. We cycled one Sunday and it was cold but magical. brand-new routes from behind the water-sport pavilion at the reservoir, parallel route along Green Lanes and over to Stoke Newington. This part of the old filter beds was still fenced off but we could see it across the reservoir.
Apparently David Attenborough has opened it this week and it's officially open from 01 May.
Maybe see you there . . .

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Xochipilli, Flower God from Aztec days . . .

Xochipilii, on a good day
I had a half hour to spare yesterday while Pany recovered photos from a  re-formatted camera card, and so I went to Rooms 26 (Mexico) and 27 (North America) and marvelled at the indigenous peoples' technology, crafts and lifestyle, all as on display in this repository of all things foreign.

More on him in the photo at

I only had a half-hour to spare, but was instantly transported back home to British Columbia when I saw the carved cedar entrance statues for a village lodge, as I entered the North America room.

These were 'borrowed' from the Vancouver Island village in about 1810 where they held up the entrance to the communal lodge, and taken by Royal Navy to London.

I note that today, back in British Coumbia where these artefacts are from, the museums there are returning the feather headdresses, the canoes, the totem poles and everything else back to the tribes from where they were taken, but it's sometimes difficult to identify exactly which tribe or geographical area these cultural treasures came from. Some are below.

Potlatch goods at University of British Columbia Anthropological Museum.

This may be due to everyone having oral tradition, prior to the coming of the Europeans, and so when the villages and village life disappeared with new peoples' arrival, no-one could later be sure exactly which sub-tribe or geographical location was the origin of these canoes, head-dresses, and so on.

Lovely First Nation artefacts. Some are now especially made by First Nation artists and craftspersons for this museum.

You will be happy to hear that a number of people in Canada are working on finding out and getting these things back when there are tribal people still living; some tribes have been completely assimilated or died off in previous decades, but anthropologists are still working on it. It will take a while to redress past imperialist actions.

A very good hint on who lived where before the Europeans turned north-west North America into British Columbia is the work of Emily Carr. She was the spinster daughter of English immigrants and she took up drawing and painting as a life-long exercise.

She didn't just do portraits and work in town. She actually did what very few white women did, she travelled alone to live in remote First Nation villages and drew and painted what she found, the collapsing totem poles, the decimated inhabitants (measles and smallpox, brought by Europeans, had killed 90 % of the indigenous peoples by the time Emily started recording them in late 1800's and early 1900's) and the Potlatch ceremonies which had been outlawed by the Canadian government.

Emily is one of my heroes, and I went twice to her retrospective exhibition here last year

Some would say the anthropology on view at the British Museum in Bloomsbury is not as comprehensive as what you can see at the Horniman museum in south London

and they've got about 2,500 artefacts on North American indigenous persons online to indicate what's on their site in SE22.

The eternal question - to whom do the artefacts belong - to the people who made them and used them, or to the people who either confiscated them or paid small amounts of cash for them at the time ?

Perhaps that's something to think about the next time you buy a brass platter in Africa or a wooden bowl in South America . . . and what happened to all those Mesopotamian treasures that were formerly in the Tigris and Euphrates area once ISIL took over ? Who bought them and will they ever get back to the Middle East ? What do you think ?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

An elephant amongst the Camellias . . .

Topiary Sadie keeping warm with the camellias in Chiswick House conservatory

Camellia blooms in February and is stupendous
Chiswick House Camellia Festival and Magic Lantern festival - go to link below

True Love on a park bench . . .T

True love on a park bench . . .

Magic Lantern Festival at Chiswick . . .

Dad's Army

Translucent Swan

It's behind you !

Guardian Sphinx

Little Gold Taurus the Bull

Monday, 13 July 2015

A Comprehensive Cover motor policy £ 100 CHEAPER than Third party. Why ?

 Motor car insurance is a rip-off ... My car is nineteen years old, and as comprehensive cover costs over £ 400 per year, I thought I'd get a quote from my (national) insurers for just 'the basics', third party, fire and theft. Ten years ago this was about half the cost of a comprehensive policy; the drawback was that if you damaged your own car, you'd have to pay for the repairs yourself, yes ? Fair enough, and it worked.

Yesterday my insurance company said 'that'll cost you A HUNDRED POUNDS MORE A YEAR, for LESS cover (no windscreen cover, no ability to drive a friend's car, no 'no-claim-discount' protection, and so on). AND £ 100 MORE per year.
The nice man at the call centre said this was now 'common policy' at his company. When I went to the 'go*******' site to check their competition, about 75 other insurers also all gave me a quote for the same outrageous INCREASE in fee for LESS cover.

BTW, that's a quote for a year's motor insurance, when you leave your car parked in a bay on the road in central London, and it is very competitive. It just seems a rip-off if you have an old motor, already blessed with dents and scratches, to have to pay a premium that reflects a shiny new car with a perfect finish.

The company I've been with for maybe fifteen years has small print that says "Our current administration fee to cancel your policy is £47.40 . . . . " I guess you'd have to find a much better deal than the one you're on at present, to make up for that hefty cancellation fee, eh ?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Euro NCAP -how safe is your car ?

How safe is your car ? Click on the title to find out . . .

It was 6.00 am. I was going back home after giving Annette a lift to work across London. Dark and raining. Stopped at the traffic lights, a London bus to the left (in the turning-only lane) and another big red bus to the right. As we all moved off something odd happened : the bus on my left moved into my lane. No signal. No warning. I'm in a tiny Skoda Felica. I become anxious in a milli-second. This is because the bus to my right is moving ahead at the same speed as me, and the two buses are moving towards each other. There's no space for my car. What would you do, because there's a big truck right behind you ?

Crunch . . . the bus on my right squished into the car. It makes a REALLY loud noise, when you've not got the radio on. The bus on the left carried on into my lane and sped off. The bus which hit me pulled over clear of the junction and we did what you always should do, exchange names and addresses and insurance details. His bus had no marks on the paint-work. Pristine and shiny. My car wasn't all bashed up. All we could find was a cracked side-light and a scrape on the wheel arch. The rear-view wing mirror folded flat and survived, so that's another fifty quid I don't have to spend replacing it.
It took me a half-hour to get over the shock. I cannot believe that my first accident ever, trapped between two big buses and I walked away, and the car is drive-able.
Strangely, no-one else stopped to help. There were, even at six in the morning, about fifteen other vehicles at that junction when they saw my car being squished. The police did ask whether I needed an ambulance, but I declined in favour of a cup of tea when I returned home. It's only ten am. what else could happen today ?
Oh yes, my car is about four out of five stars. Reassuring to know.

Best lunch in Bloomsbury

Click on the title to go to the link for this restaurant inside the British Museum in Bloomsbury.
It was January. Don and I went to a camera shop nearby [ ] looking at long telephoto lenses (we've both since acquired one or two) and decided to check out somewhere to eat.
We weren't ready for the superbly presented dishes. He had a Thai curry and I had something simple like a Caesar salad. Our palates were very pleasantly assaulted by the range of delicate flavours chasing each other around. We both agreed that it was a very good lunch indeed, and would recommend it to anyone. It's not the least expensive place around, but the glamour of being up at roof level in the new Great Court and the very good food will make it a memorable day for you too.