Dublin: St Stephen's Green

Monday, July 27, 2015


I visited Dublin a few months ago. I hadn't been to Dublin for more than 12 years (my trips back to Ireland take me to Cork instead).

Dublin felt like an invigorated city to me, lively and exciting. My visit coincided with excellent sunny weather (rare for Ireland), so I took the opportunity to sit in the sun and people-watch.

I wandered around and sat in Stephen's Green for an afternoon, one of the main garden squares in the centre of Dublin.

I saw and heard the following microcosms of Dublin:

  • Lots of teenage girls queuing up to meet a boyband with no name that hadn't made any music.
  • Two young guys talking about women (and magpies) with every sentence filled with swearwords.
  • A woman saying to another, "You were gone up like a tomato!"
  • A young woman playing the ukelele (badly) to raise money for a charity trip to Uganda. An older woman passed her, commenting with a disdainful Dublin drawl, "Don't give up yer day job!"
  • 3 young women having a picnic. One had (evidently) just married. They were catching up, in the most insincere tones I've maybe ever heard. Cork accents, like.

    "Hoooow's married life?"
    "Noooo different"
    "So, how was the wedding?"
    "Great!"
    "Did you have a great time?"
    "Great time!"
    "Wassss it fabliss?"
    "Fabulous!"
    "And you'd definitely go back?"
    "Definitely go back!"
    "And how was the hotel?"
    "Beautiful!"
    "And the food?"
    "Out of this world!"

Circle Lines | Glasgow Subway

Monday, June 01, 2015


Deep in the cold and damp of Saturday morning in January in Scotland, I took a trip on the Glasgow subway - a one-line railway which loops around the city.

But while Glasgow is a mainly grey city architecture-wise, its subway was a more colourful experience 

The train itself: three cute bright orange carriages - like an oversized Berocca tube - bolting, barrelling, zipping through the tunnels.

A woman (who looks like Hayley from Coronation Street) wearing bright turquoise coat, a man in a bright orange hi-vis vest, a station with pastel pink walls, a girl with a bright pink bobble hat, coat and shopping bag, a man with a bright red scarf, a lady's bright purple handbag, a bright green hat, and a cerise beret.

And then there was the colourful scenes all around me:
  • Someone telling a long story to her mother about Amy and Lindsay and the job they both applied for.
  • An old lady rolling her shopping trolley onto the carriage with a sigh.
  • A woman entering and grimacing, "Something smells, doesn't it man? They should put air freshener."
  • A woman asking her child, "Did you bring toilet roll? No? We'll need to get hankies."
  • A police officer asking a little girl, "Have you been to the shops? Did you buy any knick knacks?"
  • A teenage girl admonishing her little sister, "Stop acting so smart!"
  • Someone saying," Every time the council's used it makes the case complex."
  • A man loosing his footing, tripping on top of another man, says "Aye, we're close now!"

Circle Lines | On the Loop in Chicago

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chicago's L train doesn't actually have a circular line, but a group of lines which come together in a circle line effect in a part of the city called The Loop.



So with a few strategic station changes, it's the next best thing.

I rode around, amid lots of people on their phones, and saw and heard:

  • A middle-aged woman speaking into a walkie-talkie: "OK, I'm on!"
  • A young Woman pulling on a baseball cap like armour
  • A woman pursing her lips and momentarily bopping in her seat twirling her hands around
  • Two girls with bright pink coats, with white, blue and red beads braided into their hair.
  • "It's going be alright. It is going be all right," says a woman into her phone.
  • A boy in a purple hoodie looks derisively at a woman's bright pink phone holder.
  • Young woman cheerfully declaring, "I noticed it! I noticed it!"
  • A middle-aged lady with resplendent red accessories (shoes, spectacles, handbag and shoulder bag) intently reading the Bloomingdales' catalogue.
  • A woman sketches a large drawing with dashed lines and arrows into her sketchbook.
  • A doleful man slumped against the train wall while carrying a book of torts and laws.
  • A woman wearing a bright peach and yellow blouse chewing and popping luminous green gum
  • A cheeky young boy propping his feet up on a seat between two men, both of whom studiously ignore him and his feet.

Circle Lines | Yamanote Line, Tokyo

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Sometimes when I'm travelling, I like to simply sit on a train and watch people near me, places passing by. And what better way to do this than on a circular, loop line.

I like to think that a circular line brings you a 360° view of a place (it's not always the case, but it's a nice idea).

This is the first in a semi-regular series of posts on circular travelling -so if there's a circular loop line where I am, I'll get on board!



Years ago when I visited Tokyo, I spent a few hours travelling around on the Yamanote line.

It's a circular line travelling through most of the major stations in Tokyo, including Ginza, Shibuya and Shinjuku.

As I sat on the train, I took notes of sights I saw and sounds I heard and revelled in the people-watching.

I saw:
  • Green stripes on platform to show where to stand
  • A girl with purple and gold bag and gold shoes
  • The five people opposite me lined up, all asleep
  • A chorus of polyphonic music greeted us at every station
  • Outside offices, and lots of them
  • Huge concrete faceless skyscraper structures at Akihabara
  • A MUJI warehouse
  • A pyramid covered in sparkling lights at Yurakucho
  • Passengers reading books with non-descriptmd plain covers: beige or plain white, some with very simple patterns.
  • The station Mamamatsucho pronunced differently in English and Japanese
  • The monorail to Haneda airport flying over the metro line 
  • A tiny dog in a woman's handbag. She's been on the train for 6 stops ago, before I had noticed
  • Nobody else seems to noticed the dog
  • A grown man reading a comic, showing the words "Here's the world War 1 flying ace returning to the aerodrome"
  • Lots of snorting and sniffing sounds
  • At Ebisu station, the man next to me sleeps and slumps against me
  • A guy whispering into his phone
  • As the train continues around, the dog starts to bark lightly. The woman holds its mouth.
  • The man next to me then notices the dog and pets it
  • A poster in station declares: "Never stop the explaining!"
  • At Osuka station, a man tucks his (dry) umbrella into his trousers. It's half genius, half weird.

Modern Brasília

Wednesday, February 25, 2015




I took a trip to Brasília on my recent holiday to Brazil.

Brasília is Brazil's capital city, deep in the interior of the country.

But Brasília is barely 50 years old, all built between 1957 and 1960.

The whole city is built in the superbly modern shape of an airplane. Its central fuselage is a long ceremonial boulevard surrounded by amazing modernist buildings like these in the photos.

Brazil's Humble Plastic Chair

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

One of my favourite things about Brazil is the way they use humble plastic chairs. I see it as very Brazilian.


 To us, they're simple garden furniture. In Brazil, these plastic chairs come in all sorts of colours, sometimes branded with company logos.



They're at bars, restaurants, a party can be pitched up anywhere. They're arranged haphazardly. It's not important to be neat, to be formal, what matters is somewhere to sit, to eat, to drink, to talk, to joke, to see what's going on around you, to be together with friends or family.





So for all the wonderful symbols of Brazil - landmarks, caipirinhas, flags, flora and fauna -  the simple plastic chair looms large for me.


Rio de Janeiro streets

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Rio de Janeiro does not have one main shopping street - unlike Buenos Aires or Istanbul.



While it might seem like Rio's beaches are the hub of all energy, there is still lots of life and activity to please people-watchers in Rio.  As I walked around the city, here's what I saw...


  • A poodle wearing four bright blue socks
  • A thin hipster-ish man wearing skinny jeans and a smock shirt playing a picalillo in middle of traffic
  • A middle-aged man fainting on the street, with people crowding around trying to help
  • A young dude working the door of a restaurant checking out every guy that passed him by
  • A mother calming her truculent little boy, saying "tranqui, tranqui!"
  • A good-looking man walking along a busy street wearing only a skimpy sunga. Only in Rio!
  • A young teenage boy pleading through tears and wails with a shop security guard
  • A tiny old lady clutching her phone to her face and conspiratorially covering her mouth
  • Guys carrying used drinks cans in fishing nets, a modern update on a traditional economy.
  • A man selling books in the middle of traffic while wearing a bright grass green suit and carrying a huge sign. 

Bustling Buenos Aires

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Every city has its zones: the political quarter, business quarter, entertainment district.

One of the first things I'll do in a new city is head for the main shopping street to watch the comings and goings.



In Buenos Aires, that main street is the Calle Florida, which has been partly pedestrianised for more than a hundred years.

As I walked along, here's what I saw.

  • A man furiously spraying the air with an aerosol
  • A woman with a full head brace
  • People positioned every few yards along the street saying "cambi cambi cambio" in every manner of refrain.
  • Adverts for the McTriple, meat-obsessed Argentina's answer to the Big Mac (three burgers in one)
  • A woman carrying a 7 foot tall lampstand and shade wrapped entirely in bright lime green plastic
  • A man playfully tussling his girlfriend's long blonde hair, so much so that it ends up splayed across the ice cream cone she's eating.
  • A group of Orthodox Jews handing out boxes of Channukah lights
  • A blonde woman in a bright baby blue dress walking two pink painted poodles
  • A woman walking hand-in-hand with her two young daughters, all three of them wearing the same sparkly silver shoes
  • A big burly black man carrying 15 flashy handbags on one arm.
  • A man power-walking to work wearing a  tracksuit, football shirt and carrying a formal leather briefcase 

Hot Xmas

Monday, February 02, 2015

I recently spent Christmas and New Year in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.


Christmas in hot climates is pretty surreal, seeing decorations in sweltering sunshine or against bright blue skies.


Christmas lights and decorations vary from pretty and good to ridiculous and tacky. Overall though, for us in Europe, they light or cheer up the darkest time of the year and bring a little glitter to the gloom.






Not so in the southern summer, but they were rather entertaining and fun for me to see how Christmas traditions translate in different climates.







My favourite sight - which I saw from a car so no time to photograph - was of a Christmas tree on a beach, made of clear and green discarded plastic bottles.

Angels in America

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Whenever I sit in a window seat in a flight, I always think of a scene in the TV miniseries of the play Angels in America (first broadcast 11 years ago today!) in which a character - Harper - sits in a window seat (go watch it, it's brilliant!).

And as one of my recent flight was to New York, this led to remember more scenes from the play set in and around Manhattan - including the memorable final scene set at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park.




This led me to go in search of more Angels in America, dotted around New York.


This angel above holding a globe is part of the large monument at the centre of Columbus Circle.


This small angel - perhaps more a cherub or maybe just a little baby - is one of a pair perched on a lamppost on Grand Army Plaza right by Central Park. Take a look: https://goo.gl/maps/sjyrL



These two angels are to be found on the bronze base of a flagpole outside the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.






These two angels are upon the Federal Office Building at 90 Church Street, just near Ground Zero.

But many angels I thought I had found actually turned out to be eagles - the symbol of the United States - like this above Grand Central Terminus.



London to New York from above

Friday, December 05, 2014

You don't see much land on a flight from London to New York (especially if it's a cloudy day in the UK Ireland) - otherwise, it's the Atlantic Ocean all the way.

But, as you descend along the eastern seaboard of Canada and the USA, there are lovely views of islands, coasts and cities like these.




(This is Plum Island - I saw this on my last flight to New York too.)






Buffalo Ghost Signs

Monday, November 24, 2014

I stayed overnight in Buffalo, New York after my trip to Niagara Falls.

There isn't a huge amount to do in Buffalo, but I did enjoy walking around and finding lots of ghost signs - a sign or painting kept on a building for longer than needed. Wikipedia helpfully says that "the signage may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner".

Though, on reflection, maybe some of these aren't Ghost Signs, and are still thriving businesses - much like the signs in my Words on Walls post.









Words on Walls

Saturday, November 22, 2014

As a fan of graphic design and typography, I particularly love seeing words painted on walls, signs, billboards and elsewhere.


So much so that I started a Words on Walls Pinterest board to collect my favourites.

To me, typography on walls, signs etc is an equivalent to public art and sculpture. You can get a sense of a city or country through them.



There's something about words painted on brick or metal which strikes me as very American. I took these examples on my trip to New York and Chicago.