Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 is over: here's what I did in 2010.

Some randomly plucked 2010 audio/visual highlights

10 tweets from 2010
  • I made the Polish ladies in Old Street station sandwich shop smile by speaking Polish to them.
  • Reading about pubs in Ireland opening on Good Friday. 'tis a landmark
  • Fascinating fact: Switzerland has won more Nobel Prizes (per capita) than any other nation.
  • WEIRD. I've just read an email written by me in 2000, talking about having set up a Eurovision website. I have no memory of that.
  • My friend Vandana and I are setting up a stall at a flea market. We're going to be the V&A Flea-seum.
  • Love Spotify. Search Ellie Goulding. Get "Do you mean Elsie Goulding?" I wish I did.
  • Saw a geography teacher doing his marking on the tube earlier. Was quite excited.
  • Going to see Grace Jones tonight. Amazing seats, actually sitting in one of her hats.
  • I managed to use the word outré and metaphor in my leaving speech at work. Brilliant.
  • Received spam from Airline Adriana. How wonderful. I'd fly with them.

Sights in Sweden

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sights of Gothenburg

I went to Gothenburg in Sweden a few weekends. It was very nice, here's what I saw:
  • Elegant, solid architecture. Built to withstand cold, snow, time.
  • Festive fare at Haga Christmas market
  • A tree at Liseberg completely covered in Christmas lights. Every branch had a twinkle.
  • A lake shaped like a guitar
  • Nanne Gronvall-esque climbing frame in the airport
  • A portly chap doing a stumbly samba to You're making me hot hot hot
  • Elks and reindeers in Slottskogen park
  • Homeware shops on every street. There are loads.
  • Adventstjarna - a lovely star in every window

Swedish Adventstjerne

Nature in Gothenburg


Monday, December 06, 2010

I didn't even realise it at the time, but my blog turned 5 a few weeks ago. It's now going to school.

Our Saint Saviour

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Saint Saviour by Genie Espinosa

I went to see Hurts play at Union Chapel last week, as part of Mencap's Little Noise sessions. They were wonderful: haunting, elegant, emotional - as arresting now as the first time I saw them.

I really enjoyed the support act Saint Saviour.

We described Saint Saviour as:
  • Kate Bush meets Liza Minelli
  • Marcella Detroit meets Robyn
  • Enya meets Roisin Murphy
  • Dolores O'Riordan meets Enya
  • Enya goes to Florence (with the Machine)

Ergo: amazing.

Maybe the church setting set me to thinking more than usual, but the lyrics Saint Saviour sang really stood out: "don't shine the spotlight on me, I'm already bright enough". Profound, no?

Have a listen:

Find more artists like Saint Saviour at Myspace Music

Adrian, USA

Friday, November 05, 2010

Adrian, USA

Whilst reading the article on the nomenclature of American towns, I got to wondering about places with my name. It turns out there's quite a few Adrians in America, stretching all the way from New York to Washington. 

The majority of American Adrians are quite small, with no more than a couple of hundred people in each. Some are named after settlers, with one, Adrian, Oregon, named after another Adrian: Adrian, Illinois.

Adrian Minesota, one of the larger Adrians, with more than a thousand inhabitants, was named after the mother of the local railway's directors. She was called Mrs Adrian Iselin, and he was Adrian C. Iselin. So really he named it after himself. The locals, apparently, prefer to believe the town was named after St Adrian.

Adrian, Michigan is perhaps the most exciting of all, with a plentiful 21,000 inhabitants. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, it was known as the "fence capital of the world," as it was where the first successful wire fence was invented. Fancy that. 

On the nomenclature of cities and towns in the United States

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stripes USA map

I recently found an article from 1885 on JStor with the exciting title On the nomenclature of cities and towns in the United States. It sounded fascinating - I've always wondered why certain cities in the USA were so named.

I was thinking about places I've seen on maps, places like Malta, New YorkZurich, Kansas or Lebanon, Oregon. I imagined fledgling Maltese, Swiss or Lebanese immigrant communities founding new towns and making new lives in a new land.

The actual reason is much more prosaic. Early railway companies and postal companies basically picked names at random or from long lists of places (maybe listed in almanacs)

The article speaks of certain parts of New York state with classic names like Ithaca, Syracuse, or Troy, so named as "a pedantic surveyor-general of the last century took ancient names, at random, out of a classical dictionary to scatter broadcast over this new land".

Years ago, I read Sweet Liberty by Irish writer Joseph O'Connor (brother of Sinead). In it, he travelled around the US, visiting nine towns and cities called Dublin. But despite finding something to write about in each place, he found very little connection to Ireland.

Practically all of Europe is accounted for: from Armenia, Wisconsin to Lisbon, Ohio, from Athens, Georgia, via Vienna, Missouri to Oslo, Minnesota.

These places are not named in the ways we might first think... but they could be, and that's what's brilliant.

What is in Albania

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A few weeks ago, during a holiday in Corfu, I went on a day trip to Albania. We took a ferry to a town called Sarandë and a bus to UNESCO archaeological site called Butrint.

Butrint was very interesting - a huge site, dating from Roman, Greek, Venetian and Ottoman times.

Sights in Albania
Sarande surprised me - it was a new town, built in the early 20th century. The town was very modern - lots of art-deco-ish architecture. It was quite Miami. The bars and restaurants seemed modern and new - a very different place to how I expected.

What was odd, however, was that this town with nice buildings and a long, lovely seafront promenade was empty. It was 4pm on a Wednesday - there was hardly a soul to be seen. Perhaps it was an Albanian version of siesta?

I particularly enjoyed seeing Albanian folk-pop videos on a screen in a café. I can't decide who my favourite performer was: the woman called PONI or the woman bottom right below: she certainly was her own biggest fan.

London to Corfu, from above

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I took these great aerial photos on a flight from London to Corfu, passing over France and Italy.

Dampierre nuclear power plant, aerial photograph

Race track, from above

La Spezia, from above

The Alps from above

And on the return night flight, we passed over Paris - spot the Eiffel Tower in the left lower middle ground.

Paris by night, aerial photograph

Map pictograms: the world as washing

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to advertise washing machines to me: add a world map made from clothes. I found this lovely image in a Latvian magazine.

Map pictograms: Georgia

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's probably fair to say we don't see many maps of Georgia printed in the UK. So I was intrigued to see these maps in The Economist magazine - advertising Georgia as a business opportunity. Whether you agree with the attempts to westernise Georgia or not, the maps and landscapes are stunning.

Sending postcards to museums

Friday, August 20, 2010

Last year, when I went to Norwich, I bought some snapshot sets at a second-hand market. I had never seen such things before: little envelopes in which were several snapshot photocards. "How novel," thought I, "I'll buy them!"

I bought sets with pictures of: Shetland, Amsterdam, Niagara Falls, San Remo, Norway and Vienna.

A year later, I have looked at and admired these sets quite enough - but what to do with them? I don't want to just throw them away (that would never do), and charity shops don't seem worthy enough - so I hit on the idea of sending them to relevant museums.

This is a bit foolhardy: museums generally have lots of things in their collections, more than enough, and possibly don't need items they have not solicited. On the other hand, I'm intrigued to see which museums might like the sets. And, so...

I'm sending the Shetland set to the Shetland Museum.

The Amsterdam set go to the Amsterdam Historical Museum.

The Norwegian Maritime Museum receive the 19 images of Norway's coast.

20 photographs of San Remo go to San Remo's Museo Civico

Beautiful photographs of Vienna go to the Wien Museum

And finally, the twelve photographs of Niagara Falls go to the Niagara Historical Museum

I'll let you know what happens.

The French Vogue for bumbags

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How I love the French fashion for wearing bum bags! They're a very useful accessory, of course, and spare the shoulders the ache of a rucksack. And, apparently, they're the height of fashion, with this full page spread I spied in French Elle. It's delightfully endearing that something that went out of fashion in the UK and Ireland remains so in France and other European countries.

And fact fans, in South Africa, the bum bag is called a moon bag. How interesting!

Small Spaces @ V&A Museum

Friday, August 06, 2010

I went to the V&A Museum last week to see Small Spaces, an exhibition of seven small structures built by architects in the V&A's galleries.

It was fascinating. I love small, cosy, cute spaces so the whole idea appealed to me.

The structure I had most wanted to see was a tea-house by Terunobu Fujimori. Raised up on four spindly, tree-branch like legs, you climb a little ladder to enter the teahouse. Inside, the ceiling is covered with tiny pieces of charred wood arranged in a parallel pattern with a simple tea-set. It was utterly charming.

Architects from Mumbai built a structure based on in-between spaces in Mumbai which become home to people in the city. They live in the cracks of the city, between, say, a warehouse and a factory, covering above with a the ceiling of sheet metal and making a home.

Norwegian architects built a four-storey walk-in bookcase, made of smooth Scandinavian wood with two in-built seats covered in animal furs. I wanted to stay there all day reading. Another staircase structure had lots of nooks hidden behind curtains. Climbing it was like my own mini-drama: what would be behind each drape?

In addition to the structures, models and drawings of structures that were not made were on display. I loved an Austrian architect's structure which would have had people walking on grains, with small pools of water around them and gently swaying stalks of wheat and barely suspended from the ceiling.

I also loved a structure in which you lie face down on the floor in a dug out groove, with a small screen under your eyes which shows someone else's viewpoint as they walk around the museum. It was a real shame this was not built, I really hope it will be.

The exhibition showed how architecture affects us all, making us smile, making us unhappy, and inspiring our curiosity.

Caroline Irby's A Child from Everywhere

Monday, August 02, 2010

I went last weekend to see Caroline Irby's A Child from Everywhere at the V&A Museum of Childhood.

Juan from Chile, by Caroline Irby

In her project, photographer Caroline Irby found children from 185 of the world's countries who are now living in the UK.

Nadine from Egypt, by Caroline Irby
I'm always a fan of 'someone from every country' style projects, so I admire Caroline Irby's spirit. The resulting photographs are wonderfully expressive, capturing some of the personality of each child and their fascinating life stories.

14 of these photographs are on display at the V&A until the end of August, accompanied with films and short interviews with some of the children.

Happily, the films, made for Channel 4 can be seen online here, and all the photographs, taken for The Guardian, can be seen here. Additionally, these articles on the project from The Times and Junior magazine make interesting reading.

Chinese art at the Ashmolean Museum

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Friday, I went to Oxford for the first time, spending some time at the Ashmolean Museum. The Museum's vast collection of objects is shown off wonderfully by the new extension to the building which brings light, brightness and freshness into the Museum's space. It also has some lovely undulating staircases.

Museums are usually vast: vast spaces - so many objects, so much to see, explore, learn. I'm always drawn to small, discrete spaces. At the Ashmolean, my favourite gallery was the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Gallery of Chinese Paintings, a lovely wood-lined, split level gallery showing Chinese painting and art through time and artefacts relating to painting, calligraphy and illustration.

The first 'painting' I saw wasn't actually a painting, but a papercut by Bovey Lee. I love the delicacy, intricacy and sheer attention to detail in these papercuts.

The calligraphy and implements on display were equally beautiful, fascinating and ornate. Imagine all the images made by these tools through time. All the images below come from the Ashmolean's online collections website Eastern Art Online.

Porcelain brush rest
This Chinese porcelain brush rest (something I never knew existed, but a very handy invention) dates from either the 2nd half of the 16th century or the first half of the 17th century.

Brass seal
This seal stamps calligraphy design, and dates from 1749.

And this calligraphy, while pretty recent (dating from 1990), tells the story of artisan Wang Xianzhi's response to his new-found fame.

Look at all the Ashmolean's calligraphy objects.

Map pictograms: Ireland unwound

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two tourism ads with maps showing Ireland and Britain in cord-form. The latter suggests that Britain's all tangled up (nice unwitting Girls Aloud reference) while Ireland's all relaxed.

Flag it up @ Hide & Seek Weekender

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Sunday, I went to something called the Hide & Seek Weekender at the National Theatre. It was basically a whole weekend full of games. How ace.

The games were many: treasure hunts, chasing games, word games - all kinds of fun stuff that makes us think creatively about words, cities, places and geography. Very exciting stuff.

Sadly, I didn't have very long to spare so I had to choose the games I played carefully - the first of which was called Flag It Up. In it, I was given an envelope containing the name of a country and some facts about that country. My task: re-design its flag.

I set to my task with gusto.

I got Thailand, so started to think about Thailand as a land of beaches and temples. At the end of the day, all the entries were displayed without country names with the winner being that which most people correctly identified.

I don't think I won (I don't know which / who did) but all in all: amazing flag fun.

World Cup in London: Netherlands & Spain

Monday, July 12, 2010

Or: Voetbal! Football with London's Dutch fans & Futbol! Football with London's Spanish fans

To watch the World Cup Final last night, I had planned to be with Dutch fans singing Hup Holland Hup! But with queues outside Dutch bar De Hems from 10am, it didn't look like I'd be getting in there.

Holland football fans, London

In fact, nearly all of Soho was awash with red and orange yesterday - jolly fans all singing and dancing, wearing fun costumes and having a very good time.

Holland football fans, London

In the end, me and two friends settled in Devonshire Arms, a bar where on one side there were mainly Dutch fans and on the other side mainly Spanish fans. The best of both worlds!

Dutch & Spanish football fans, London

We placed ourselves firmly in the middle - I was rooting for both sides: Netherlands winning would have made me super-happy, Spain winning would have made me £135. Win-win all round.

The game was really not the most exciting, but the fans made up for it: chanting Ho-lland and Es-pan-a, sometimes breaking out into song.

Spain football fans, London

As the game dragged on, their enthusiasm did not wane, but everyone was on tenterhooks until near the very end when Spain scored. Joy to the left of me, dejection to the right.

Spanish football fans, London

Once the match ended, the Spanish fans poured out onto the streets. A group of women went running past cheering and waving flags. Piccadilly Circus was awash was red and yellow, people climbing all the way up the Eros to celebrate, sing and dance. One man even dropped his trousers giving us all quite an eyeful.

Spanish football fans, London

And with the sights and sounds of Spain celebrates, I slipped away.

So that's the World Cup. From brilliant Brazilians to gallant Ghanians to surprised Slovenians and unhappy Uruguayans, it's been quite a show.

World Cup in London: Germany

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Or: Fußball! Football with London's German fans

I hoped to watch tonight's Germany -v- Spain World Cup semi-final with German fans. Vauxhall bar The Jolly Gardeners was super-full, however, with people reportedly queuing since 3pm.

So I joined other fans in another nearby over-spill bar. That bar too was packed to capacity, so I stood outside for most of the first half. One man emerged from within saying "Oh my days". It must have been quite exciting inside.

During half-time, I snuck in. What an atmosphere! The temperature was practically sauna-like, clammy with sweat and alcohol.

Germany football fans, London

This didn't deter the German fans who were singing and chanting a whole variety of tunes. Sadly no blast of their recent Eurovision winner. Forshame.

One man carried around a replica of the Jules Rimet trophy into which he placed his beer. Nice. Another blew on his vuvuzuela.

But midway through the half, the bar fell silent when Spain scored. "Scheise", one man whispered.

Germany never regained momentum, though the fans did, cheering all the way, particularly "Auf Gehts Deutschland Schieß ein Tor" (Let's go Germany, score a goal).

Germany football fans, London

But as the final whistle blew, and Germany lost, a man outside changed the chant to "la la la you're going home".

Oh dear.

Next: On Sunday, I'm going Dutch for the World Cup Final.