How long is a piece of string? OR Is a half century just a few days ago?

Last Monday was the last Monday in August and being England, that means that it was a Bank Holiday; in other words, an officially sanctioned excuse for having a day off.  Bank holidays — of which there are several annually — are public holidays in the United Kingdom (and in some other countries that have cherry-picked British customs).  It’s not as if there’s an automatic right to taking time off on these days or receiving extra pay if you’re working but most people seem to regard it as a holiday nevertheless.

In these days, there are Bank Holidays in England & Wales on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the 1st Monday in May (Early Spring Bank Holiday), the last Monday in May (Spring Bank Holiday), the last Monday in August (Late Summer Bank Holiday) and then, sob-sob, nothing for four whole months — until the end of December, at which point, there’s Christmas Day and Boxing Day.  And there’s special dispensation for the unfortunate takers off of time when the designated Bank Holiday (e.g., Xmas or New Year’s) falls on a Saturday or Sunday, in which case, believe it or not, the following Monday becomes the day off.

It all seems to work quite well except, of course, if you’re on the roads and attempting to get away or — more than likely, and — return home along with several million other people at the same time.  For someone who has [sort of got] used to living in Israel (but not really), secular holidays (yes, even Easter and Christmas have, for most, become strictly secular) have something of a novelty value.

Of course, what a secular god gives with one hand, she takes away with the other.  One of the ironies of having the day off on Bank Holiday is that public transport tends to use the day see to “essential maintenance”.  In London, that means that sections of the Underground are affected, i.e., shut down — at which point the dreaded yellow signs appear at bus stops opposite Tube stations, informing the hoi polloi that a replacement bus service is operating.  In this part of London, that means that the 5 km between Hampstead Station in the north and Euston Station in the south — and beyond — becomes a long stream of elderly red double-decker buses taking the place of the august Northern Line trains, each with a young employee of Transport for London explaining to the potential travellers which stations the bus would stop at.

Replacement service 1Replacement service

Not that everyone is happy with this temporary replacement service, such as the old (I have to be very careful these days what adjective I choose to use for these situations) biddy standing directly opposite Hampstead Station who, in the broadest Dublin accent I’ve heard for a long time, screamed “Dey tink dat dis is a fuckin’ replacement service?  So woy can’t they fuckin’ put the fuckin’ bus stop roit besoid de fuckin’ station, den?”  So I explained to her, in an almost equally broad Dublin accent, perhaps influenced by seeing a wonderful performance of Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at The National Theatre the other evening — I really couldn’t quite match it, try as I did — that “if dey did dat, der would be a joygantic traffic jam so that nutting would move and nobody would be able to go anywhere”.  Apparently, she’d been waiting there for over 20 minutes for a bus to stop for her.  So what could I do except to point to where the buses were actually stopping, disgorging and consuming passengers about 150 m away, obvious to everyone but the blind?  At this point, she thanked me (tanked me, actually) politely and made her way down to the bus stop so that she could waste her good money at Brent Cross shopping centre, which was open on Bank Holiday, presumably because it’s not a bank and was laughing all the way to it.

Anyway, the Bank Holiday gave me another opportunity to stroll around Hampstead village and Belsize Park again and see what I’d missed on the hundreds of other times I’d been through.  So I walked up to Church Row and photographed a white and pink house at #5, which I must have seen many times but missed.  However, I think that the door and shutters might have been recently repainted, making it stand out a little more.

Pink house

At the end of Church Row stands Hampstead Parish Church with its graveyard and overflow graveyard in which several worthies are buried, including in a prominent place by the street where everyone can see him, Hugh Gaitskell, erstwhile Leader of the pre-Harold Wilson Labour Party.   There’s something I always find romantic about church cemeteries although I can’t for the life of me think why.  Perhaps it’s the seeming stiffness of the tombstones or perhaps those stiffs underneath pushing them up at odd angles.  They certainly contrast with the industrialised burial landscape of Israel, which I would never dream of photographing, even if I got permission.

Hampstead Graveyard

Approaching the church, I followed a laneway to the left called Frognal Way and found myself on an urban street with a very un-urban look to it.   Perhaps the residents can’t afford to have the road paved although the houses and the cars rather suggest a certain eccentricity on their part.

Frognal Way

This reminded me, that once upon a time — in another life, it seems — I had lunch with Gaitskell’s son-in-law Gordon Wasserman who, at the time, was a senior Home Office mandarin in charge of British police.  I remember that particular conversation because although I could detect his Canadian accent, he informed me that he thought he was probably the only senior British civil servant whose education had begun in a Peretz School in Western Canada, a school in which instruction was through the medium of the Yiddish language — and that when he liaised with his Irish counterpart and members of the Gárda Síochána in the 1990s prior to the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments, his exotic accent and origins probably served British interests better than any lah-di-dah Oxbridge one could have.

The hot weather (though not as hot as last week’s 34ºC) brings all sorts out on to the streets — accordionists, singers busking Sondheim and so forth.

Accordionist

Mamma!  You really think I like this thing strapped around my neck all day???

Sondheim

The cafés are full, too, but sometimes it more interesting to see what the people are eating than the people themselves!

There are some other reminders of the hot weather, too. 

Dog spa

Global warming

Global warming is already here, for sure!

And if one keeps one’s eyes open, one can see other reminders that summer here is not yet over.

Bee on flower

Finally, I ask myself a profound question.  Is half a century is a long time or not?  I used to think it was ages; today it seems like a few weeks long.

For the fun of it, I wondered what important events occurred on August 31 1966.  Google brought up the staggering[ly trivial] information that on the day in question, Referee Leo Horn whistled his last soccer match (Ajax-Bulgaria), that Jan Einar Thorsen, an Norwegian Alpine skier was born and that Kasimir Edschmid, a.k.a. Karl E Schmidt, a German writer, died aged 75.  

However, I wasn’t really paying much attention to all of this at the time as I was a principal participant at a wedding ceremony.  How the other principal actor at that event has managed to put up with all the nonsense that issues forth on a daily basis from yours truly is beyond my ken but I am forever thankful that she has.  

We made it!  

Happy Golden Wedding, Vee!

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All power to the people

Yesterday, Wednesday, the temperature hit 34ºC in London.  That’s not funny because unlike other developed countries that have summers, the UK is mostly un-air-conditioned.  The best you can hope for is a stroll alongside the freezers in the local supermarket or, as we did, if you wish to stay home, to sit beside the large fan that we schlepped all the way from Tel Aviv seven or eight years ago.  But true to form, just as we were on our way out last night to see a movie, the heavens opened — not that it did anything to alleviate the heat and the humidity.  I suppose it’s a way of getting us into training for out return to T-A in a few weeks’ time.  Well, to borrow a phrase from the last Republican US president but two: “Golly gee, how time flies.”

There’s no reason, of course, why Brits couldn’t install air/con in buildings and not have to pay for the power they use except that there are probably planning regulations that forbid it and if not planning regulations forbidding it, then forbidding neighbours.  A couple of years ago, Blackfriars Station on the Thameslink route, which runs from north to south through central London, was refurbished on the Victorian  Blackfriars Bridge, which straddles the Thames near the The City of London.   The roof above this new station contains 4,400 solar panels covering 6,000 sq m.  This smart sustainable technology was designed to reduce the cost of running the station.  (Calling them solar panels is a bit of laugh for unlike seats at the corrida which are priced according to how much sol or sombre you’ll have for the duration of the bullfights.  Yes, I went to the bullfight during time off from a gathering of the International Sociological Association in Madrid years ago and found the experience interesting, especially observing the crowd.  By the time the  fourth bull entered the ring, I had figured he’d never win, so I got up and left.  Anyway, there isn’t much sol in London and consequently, the panels are referred to by the more technical term “photovoltaic panels”.  This, as all photographers know, has to do with light and even when it’s cloudy, some light gets through. So Blackfriars Bridge has become yet another iconic landmark in this area, joining St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge and the Shard.  

All in all, it’s quite something to behold.  The only thing is that although you know it’s there, you really can’t see the roof from ground level.  What you can see from there is a hint that there’s something on the roof but its size isn’t so apparent.  

Blackfriars

Blackfriars Station — the view from ground level

So when the Tate Modern added a new wing with an observation platform on the 10th floor, I decided to go up and see what could be seen from up there.  

Yes, I know.  The 10th floor isn’t all that high — but it’s free, gratis; it doesn’t cost money.  For comparison’s sake, the London Eye charges over £20, which is a double rip-off, for just as you get to the top, you start coming down — they don’t pause to let you take photographs at the top otherwise the people on their way up would start complaining and there’s no platform to hop on to.  The Shard gets you up to the 60th floor or so, where there must be a spectacular view — but for £31.  However, they will give you a £5 reduction if you book in advance — which is another source of amusement because if I’d bought a ticket yesterday — a bright sunny day — for today, I’d only have been able to shoot in shades of grey.

London Eye

The London Eye

So I settled for the Tate Modern.  Actually, we went there about three weeks ago to see an wonderfully exciting exhibition of work by Georgia O’Keeffe.  Normally, I’m somewhat under-impressed by what the Tate Modern has to offer except, to misquote Oscar Wilde, its own genius.  I am always blown away by the space of what was once the Turbine Hall of Battersea Power Station and there have been some marvellous installations there over the years.  

Turbine Room

The Turbine Hall, Tate Modern (Please excuse the personalisation)

I didn’t get a chance to go into the new wing at the end of traipsing around the exhibition, so I went back a couple of weeks later, expressly to photograph.  For once, I, the super-skeptic, wasn’t disappointed.  I know.  There are people belittle those who ascend to high vantage points to shoot the scene below but I am — or is it I was? — a geographer and landscapes, even urban landscapes, still appeal to me.

So when I emerged from the elevator at the 10th floor to view the scene, I was initially shocked by what I saw.  Somehow, I had expected protective glass to surround the observation deck but what I saw was railings that barely reach chest level.  Being who I am, my immediate thought was: “What wonderful place for suicide and simultaneously make an artistic statement.  Jackson Pollock and all that.  Splat!”.  I mentioned this to one of the other visitors and her response was: “Ooh!  I never thought of that!”.  I withheld my laugh with some difficulty.

Suicide?

There must be some sort of planning or health and safety regulation that only requires protective glass from the 11th floor and upward.  However, the view was interesting.  Looking toward the northwest, the view took in the roof of Blackfriars Station and this was exciting to see.  Half of all the power that the station uses is generated by this roof!

Blackfriars Station

Blackfriars Bridge and Station

Blackfriars Station Roof

Looking due north, towards St. Paul’s on the north bank of the Thames, the beauty of the Millennium footbridge is revealed.  It looks pretty well from down below when photographed with the dome of St. Paul’s in the middle of the frame but there isn’t really a viewing spot down below that allows you to take it all in adequately.  The view from the 10th floor of the Tate, however, does.

Millennium Bridge

The Millennium Bridge, with City of London School (top left)

The Shard, all 95 storeys and 310 m of it — its observation decks are at floors 68, 69 and 72 — is visible from all over Central London.  The image below is what you can see from atop the Tate.  

Shard 1

But just to give you a better idea of how it stands out, below is a photograph from the Millennium Bridge down below.

Shard

Thames, South Bank, City

The Shard (far right) from Waterloo Bridge,  c. 2.5 km distant, w/ St. Paul’s and The City (left) 

 

Shard 2

The Shard,  en route from the Tate Modern to Southwark Station

It really is quite spectacular.

There are a couple of residential buildings close by  the entrance to the Turbine Hall, which I think are quite attractive although a group of German tourists accompanied by some English friends were scathing in their criticism of the architecture as I stood below to photograph the buildings.  However, while atop the Tate Modern I was amused by a couple of very polite notices asking visitors to respect the privacy of their neighbours, i.e., the people who live in these apartments.  What I found so riotous was that only a small number of the apartments had curtains or blinds, thus respecting privacy might be  more difficult than the Tate imagined.  On the other hand, it didn’t look as if there were too many people around so perhaps it isn’t all that hard.

No curtains

The walk to and from the Tate along London’s streets provided some other views of interest. You just have to keep your eyes open.   Walking down Fleet Street, I came across a post box with a brass sign attached — I’d seen one of these on The Strand a week earlier — informing us that Anthony Trollope, the novelist — and sometime Irish postal Inspector — is to be credited with introducing the pillar box (the ubiquitous mail-box) into the United Kingdom, somewhere along The Strand and Fleet Street.  Three cheers for Trollope!

1st post box

One occasionally sees bikes hitched to street posts in the West End, which seems safer than incurring the wrath of Howard de Walden Estates (owned by Hugh Richard Louis, the 25-year old  Grosvenor who as of a fortnight ago has become the 7th Duke of Westminster and who owns most of the land in London’s West End, along with Andrew Ian Henry, the Russell who is the 15th Duke of Bedford).  Neither of them particularly likes bikes to be chained to their railings.  Here, the owner is taking no chances and has individual parts of the machine chained just in case someone wants to run off with a single wheel or a chain although s/he appears to have removed the saddle!

Taking no chances (bike)

In London these days, tattooed men and women are so common so as not to raise a single eyebrow, let alone both and most of them don’t draw much attention from photographers.  However, occasionally, something turns up which is worth a try.  Thes, of course, might only be easily removable transfers rather than permanent body art but I didn’t stop to ask. Anyway, I gather that the permanent stuff can be removed by lasers and I did see a place in Camden a couple of weeks ago advertising that they can tattoo and remove them.  Ta-ta-too.

Tattoos

I also usually keep the camera at the ready when riding the bus.  In this instance, I was on an almost stationary bus near Oxford Circus (most buses on Oxford Street are quasi-stationary, come to think of it), when I came across this Bolt out of the Blue singing his heart out (and it was loud even in the bus with windows and doors closed!)

Jamaica bus

Then, on the final stretch home, waiting for a bus to take me the last few hundred meters up the hill, I sat beside this person who I thought was quite photographable.  Her ears reminded me I was in London rather than Tel Aviv, in case I needed reminding.

Not Jewish

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Skye High

Since I started this blog, I haven’t had a hiatus of over a week before between posts so I know I’m long overdue.  But there’s a first time for everything.

I had done a fair bit of walking around London the week before last and during the first part of last week, doing what I do, taking pictures, some interesting and some less so — and they’ll appear in the next post.  But about 10 days ago, our son Dov invited us to spend a few days with him and his family at their August retreat on the Isle of Skye, at the same house they’ve been staying each year for the past six.  A long schlepp for a few days but the thought of getting out of London and having a few days with the grandchildren in a place they love seemed like too good to miss.  And as we’d already lost out through illness on a long-planned few days in the West of England last month, to celebrate our Golden Wedding year with all the children and grandchildren, we arranged flights and rented a car and set off early last Wednesday morning.  

Getting to Skye from London doesn’t offer too many options.  You can drive 1,000 km for 12 hours (assuming the roads are clear and the traffic’s flowing — quite some assumption) or you can take a train ride to Inverness (9 hours) or Glasgow (5 hours) and drive the rest of the way (3 hours and 6 hours, respectively).  Either way, it’s a long trip.  We opted to fly even though that meant using Luton Airport, which I remember as distinctly disabled-unfriendly and Gatwick, which I remember as simply unfriendly.  There was a Heathrow option, too, but at the price British Airways was demanding for a pair of tickets, that was a  distinct non-starter.

Luton, despite the construction work going on proved easier than I had expected, and the services offered to disabled passengers surprisingly good.  The 90-minute flight with Easyjet was a doddle and we turned up at the car rental site at Inverness Airport a couple of hours after we had taken off from Luton.  The place looked almost deserted and again I discovered that there’s a first time for everything, in this case the first time in nearly 50 years of renting cars that the rental company had nothing to offer us— not the car that I had pre-booked and paid for, not an upgrade — n-o-t-h-i-n-g!  Several cars were due back around the time we were to set off but apparently the returning renters were leaving things until the last minute.  

I know I was supposed to get angry and make a scene over the fact that we had to hang around but as there was nothing we could do and nothing the young people at the car rental station could do, there was little point in expending excess  emotional energy on something out of my control.  These sort of things shouldn’t happen but occasionally they do. Actually, I felt more for their embarrassment than our discomfort!

Eventually after 140 minutes of sitting around, during which time we ate our packed lunches and drank their coffee, three cars arrived within five minutes of one another.  The station manager offered us what I considered to be fair compensation and within 10 minutes, we were off. 

As a retired professor of geography, I am shamefaced in having to admit that other than a rather crude map of Skye, we set off without a map, relying solely on Waze, the GPS smartphone app,  to guide us.  However, we unknowingly lost internet connection somewhere around the western end of Loch Ness and continued gaily on our way, the assumption being that if the Waze lady remains silent you continue straight.  I confess, too, that on two occasions I did see road signs for Kyle of Lochalsh (leading to Skye) — Dov had actually sent me what, in retrospect, were accurate instructions, which I ignored.  But in my arrogant innocence, I assumed that Waze had ways of its own and was bringing us on a more efficient route than if I had had a paper map.  Halfway to Fort William, I even reset the GPS for Elgol (there was still no Internet but I hadn’t noticed) and it still it directed me towards Fort William.  

Shortly after this, Dov phoned to ask where we were and we received an earful.  Reaching a roundabout on the outskirts of Fort William, we doubled back and eventually found the road we needed, adding 2 1/2 hours to an already delayed trip.  Arriving at Broadford on Skye, we found Keren waiting to guide us along the last 22 km to the house, even though we had gallantly told them that we’d find the place on our own.  As it turned out, that may have been gallant but it would have been stupid — almost as stupid as asking the British electorate a couple of months ago whether they wanted to remain in Europe or leave.  Not that you could really get lost in Elgol as there aren’t enough places to really get lost in but it might have taken some time finding the house even though Dov had sent me clear instructions — and pictures — which I had ignored.  (Elgol appears to have a tiny fishing harbour from which boat outings leave each day, a single café, a few houses dotted about the hills and thousands of ovines, some wearing heavy fleece and others shorn.  Although I’m sure there are places in the Highlands and Islands even more remote than this, Elgol was as remote as I would be happy with.

The road from Broadford was single track dotted with what are referred to as “Passing Places”, small bays where a vehicle pulls in to allow one coming in the opposite direction to pass without ripping off your wing mirror.  It works extremely well — with the odd exception, which appeared mostly to be Dutch cars with wide trailers.  Yet I couldn’t help smiling and thinking that in Israel, which has a somewhat different driving culture, rather than ending up with flowing traffic you would get several points along the road at which there would be two stationary vehicles with two exasperated drivers each screaming at the other to reverse to the nearest passing place to that they could both continue towards their respective destinations.

A passing place, indeed

En route to Elgol, a deserted church and graveyard.  A passing place, indeed … 

Sheep & tombstones

… providing pasture for the most numerous inhabitants of the island

To cut a long story short, on arrival and after unloading, we were greeted Dov and our grandchildren.  After the hugs and kisses, Tal, our 6-year old grandson, told me in no uncertain terms that we should have turned on to the A87 and not stayed on the A82 (he’s a veteran London to Elgol passenger, you understand).  Talk about rubbing salt into the wound.

Sensibly, we didn’t take the mobility scooter with us as on Skye, for with the hills, the gravel and the sheep droppings that carpet everything, there’s nowhere to scoot and even with a walking frame, nowhere to walk.  So although most people who come to this part of the world come for the walking and the climbing, we were somewhat limited in that respect.  However, as the two main reasons for coming were to spend time with family and to get out of London, it didn’t really matter.  

Loch Slapin at Torrin

Loch Slapin at Torrin, en route to Elgol

And, more importantly, if you’re not a walker or a climber, what Skye offers is the opportunities to photograph even if you don’t stray too far.  Rarely have I been in a place where the light changes so constantly and rapidly, altering what you see and how you see it.  You really don’t have to go very far to create decent pictures.

The garden and of the house provided views of the harbour, of the island of Soay and in the distance, of Rum, Eigg and Muck.  To the northwest, you had views of the Cuillins, a series of hills that are there for the climbing but also for the photographing.  So, in between reading, eating and drinking, we were in and out to marvel at the changing light and what it let you see.

Elgol Harbour

Elgol Harbour

Elgol Harbour and beyond

Elgol Harbour and beyond

Harbour  @ sunset

Elgol Harbour at sunset

After three days, we were back in London, exhausted (a two-hour flight delay, no wheelchairs at the airport, a 40-minute wait for baggage and no baggage trolleys, Gatwick Airport proving more harrowing than I remember or could even have imagined) and hungry — and just 15 minutes before this week’s groceries were delivered.  

But I had some photographs and we decided that we will try to get back to Scotland next year for a little longer (we’ve never been great on advance planning) and regarded these few days as a sort of taster menu.

So enjoy the rest of the images.

Soay

Soay

Cuillins

The Cuillins

Cuillins, Midday, Fine day

The Cuillins at midday on a fine day

Cuillins, shrouded

The Cuillins shrouded

Daddy longlegs

The Cuillins — interrupted view

Cuillins, evening, pre-sunset

The Cuillins, early evening before sunset

 

Cuillins, early morning

The Cuillins, early morning

 

Sunset, Elgol

The Cuillins at sunset

Sunset

Sunset (1)

Elgol sunset

Sunset (2)

Elgol post-sunset

The Cuillins, post-sunset

Cuillins, early night

The Cuillins, early night

Cuillins & bench

The Cuillins, through the bench on the deck

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Green Ritual & English Elders

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend asked me if I’d like to accompany him to observe — and record — an old ceremonial activity for English Elders to which, in recent months, he had become involuntarily addicted.  Actually, he had to clear the “record” part with the powers-that-be as some of the rituals in the ceremony contain sections that are so secret and secretive that recording them might have sullied the good name of English men and women — and of England — the world over.

We met early on Monday morning at an agreed North London location and picked up another gentleman who was similarly fixated and drove several kilometres to the clearing in which the rites were to be performed.  My friend parked his chariot outside the bounds of the hallowed ground and we entered the sacred spot quietly and with appropriate reverence.  

I was given instructions as to where I could locate myself in order to record the rituals after which I was led into the holy of holies where ordinary mortals (like my friend and his comrade) exchanged their everyday garb for regalia appropriate to the occasion.  Colour was all important.  From the waist upward, white was acceptable; a shade of grey was appropriate for below the waist.  As to footwear, it was essential that it be flat soled and preferably pristine white, too.  (However, during the morning I did observe one individual, who was obviously some sort of high priest or shaman wearing tan-coloured footwear.)  Headgear and length of trouser leg were optional.

Novice enters fray as priest looks on

High priest

High Priest / Shaman

The hallowed ground itself was a perfectly level, velvety green surface.  This was obviously of great importance in placating the gods who the bondsmen and women had come to worship and, hopefully, from whom they would receive a blessing if they performed the rituals in the manner deemed suitable.

The hallowed groundThe hallowed ground a

There were six males in the group that I had come to record.  Two were novices, two were deacons and two were priests, who passed on their expert advice to the others, who thirsted for their every word.

Novice begins

Novice receives advice from priest …

The ceremony began when the six emerged from the holy of holies bearing large black bags with long handles. Each bag contained four large, not quite spherical, wooden objects.  These balls were reverentially removed from their sacs and placed on the green surface of the hallowed ground.  

Many balls

On of the priests then placed a what appeared to be a small prayer mat on the surface while the other produced a solid white sphere, reverently referred to as “Jack”.  It was clearly a devotional object and obviously had some magical powers.  

Homage to Jack

One of the priests then bent down on one knee as if in prayer and rolled Jack some distance. Another priest  — unmistakably with shamanistic powers — appeared from out of the blue and produced what appeared to my untutored eye to be a measuring tape and adjusted Jack’s placement to the satisfaction of all six elders.  

Measuring Jack

I noticed later that he also had smaller magical measuring instruments, which he placed between balls as if to estimate somehow which had been most heavily influenced by the powers of Jack.

The hallowed surface itself comprised six vaguely marked strips and several groups of elders — including some deaconesses and priestesses — appeared to be carrying out the identical rites to that which I had come to record.  

Priestesses

In “my” group, each of the elders took a turn at rolling the varicoloured balls in gentle curves along the hallowed surface, the objective being to make them come to a halt as close to Jack as humanly possible so that some of Jack’s magical powers would be transferred to them and, as a consequence, I suppose, the kudos would pass to the elders themselves.

Jack effect

With each roll, the remaining elders (those who had not rolled the ball) would gather together, apparently to say a prayer of thanksgiving.  One of them would then call out something like “Nine inches”, “Almost two feet”, or “A yard and half” before a different elder would take his turn at casting the ball loose.  At one stage, someone actually called out “Half a metre!”, at which point all the elders present on the hallowed ground froze in unison, eyeballing the culprit in reprimand — all for a philistine European swear word had unwittingly been uttered.

Assessing outcome of devotional prayer

The ritual continued until the collection of balls at the end from which they had been cast were exhausted at which point one of the priests would examine their location relative to Jack and announce: “One” or “Two” or “Three” or “Four”.  At this point all the elders would smile at one another.

 End over

One of the priests then took the novices aside to explain to them how they could achieve nirvana in the future by coming closer to Jack.  

Novice receives priestly advice

Following this, the whole process was repeated several times, changing ends each time.

Finally, after several iterations and a palpable improvement in the ability of the novices to come closer to God (Sorry: Jack), and with a crack of Elder knees, it was  mutually decided that prayer for the day had come to and end.  All wished one another well with the hope that they would see one another again shortly at another prayer day.

There was something vaguely familiar about the shamanistic ritual I had observed.  I remember observing something like it in Canada over four decades ago.  However, there the ritual was played out on ice with large granite stones with handles instead of wobbly balls.  There was another difference, too, for there were two flunkeys sweeping the ice rapidly with large brushes to keep the ice-devils at bay.  Otherwise the rites English and Canadian rituals were very alike.  

I have also observed a comparable ceremonial in France — and, indeed, in Tel Aviv.  There, however, the gods must be a much more uncouth lot, as their Jack is thrown in an arc through the air, the balls (hollow steel rather than wood) are also cast in a corresponding arc.  Moreover, the surface of the hallowed ground is not green green velvet and perfectly level; more often than not, it is sandy or stony and rough.   In addition, the elders tended to be highly vocal and often smoke as they performed the ritual.  

BoulesBoules 1

And I believe that there is also an extremely unsophisticated and dangerous American version of the ritual in which failure to carry out the rites correctly can result in the dislocation or even the loss of one or more fingers.

From my secular and sedentary point of view, I found the whole religious experience I had observed somewhat odd and devoid of excitement and fervour.  But then, as an avowedly secular and sedentary individual, I would.  

Wouldn’t I?

The halo

A halo surrounds the novice after his spiritual cleansing

P.S.      So that nobody be under any illusions, I was watching some people playing lawn bowls! 

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Central London, August 2016

London is a hybrid city.  What I mean to say is that it’s a mixture of semi-permanent roadworks and semi-permanent construction sites.  

Walk or drive around this city and it seems that at every other turn there’s a street to which access has been constricted or entirely blocked because some outfit — the local council, gas company, electricity company, cable company and who knows what else has dug a hole — or more likely, a channel — into which tubes, pipes, wires will either be laid or removed.  As often as not, the barriers are in place but there doesn’t really seem to be anyone around doing very much and this situation can last for days and weeks.  But it’s part of the fun of living in this World City.

After you’ve negotiated these hazards at ground level, look around and you’ll realise that of all the businesses in London, the one that seems to be the most viable is the renting, erection and dismantling of scaffolding around buildings.  Although ladders are not banned, any work requiring several workers above a certain height (I think it’s 9 meters) requires a scaffold.  It’s not unusual to see on a single street several scaffolds in various stages of use, from the stage at which the scaffolds are being unloaded from a truck to their being erected around a building, to their being in active use and then being dismantled and loaded onto a truck again — all of which, added to the hazardous channels already dug, can cause further inconvenience to pedestrians and motorists alike.

Ultrascaffold

Hyper-scaffolding, Central London

Centre Point

Centre Point, Oxford Street, shrouded while under reconstruction.  

 

 

 

 

This building has had a controversial history. It was completed in 1975 as office space and stood vacant for its first 15 years and then performed as an office building. It now is being refurbished as a luxury apartment block.  The surrounding streets, now part of a massive redevelopment in preparation for the Crossrail project, a new railway for London and the South East, from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through 42km of new tunnels under London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, and which is due to begin operation in 2018, are a mass of closures and open pits.

Then, climb to any vantage point in the city and look at the vista below.  In my case, Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath do very well, thank you.  Tall buildings seem to sprout up everywhere and where you can’t see the emerging buildings, you can see some of the hundreds cranes in action on any given day in London. 

St. Paul's:Shard in clouds

The view from Primrose Hill of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Shard (with its head in the clouds) surrounded by construction cranes in the City of London.  

I must say that I always find cranes absorbing — almost as fascinating as fire hydrants and red pillboxes.  They always remind me of giant stick insects, especially the slenderer ones.

 Cranes Belsize

All of which reminds me that on Sunday, we went with the grandchildren to the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.  This is a museum that is know to some Londoners but which is somewhat off the tourist trail and can only be described as a national treasure.  Yes, the children can enjoy themselves and learn a lot there but it’s really a place where the adults can be reminded of toys they had and games they played six and seven decades earlier.   What reminded me of it just now is their displays of Meccano sets, which are really miniature cranes.  I was never particularly interested in Meccanos when I was younger but there was plenty there that I did remember from my childhood (which wasn’t all that long ago!).

Anyone can be a child

Children of all ages can play at the Museum of Childhood

 

But coming back to the barriers to motorised movement in Central London, add to the closed streets and the holes and channels such things as the resurfacing of roads and streets, negotiating London can be a tiresome exercise indeed.  And it’s exasperating when you’re trapped in traffic and going nowhere — despite the Congestion Charge of £11.50 for bringing a vehicle into Central London between 07.00 hrs and 18.00 hrs, Monday to Friday, a step which was designed to reduce the traffic in the city centre.  I suppose it does to a certain degree but cars, cabs, buses and everything else still get caught up in the snarl and people sitting in their cars look as if they are bored to tears — and surely they must be.  

Stuck in traffic

The cab driver below, at the bottom of Charing Cross Road, gave me a broad grin and a wave after he twigged on as to why I had I had taken the photo, about half a second after!

Stuck in traffic 1

Last Thursday, we took ourselves to the National Portrait Gallery to take in an exhibition of photographs by the American photographer, William Eggleston, who in the 1960s achieved some fame — and some might say notoriety — for pioneering the use of colour in art photography.  Prior to that, colour had been used almost exclusively in fashion photography and advertising but Eggleston made it “kosher” for art photographers.  I always found his use of bright, bold, highly saturated colours a little too gaudy to my taste but here, interspersed with early black and white photographs that had apparently not been exhibited before, the colour no longer appeared to be extravagant and seemed to me  to be an extension of work he had done earlier.

While at the gallery, we also visited the annual BP Portrait Award Exhibition for 2016.  These are paintings, not photographs,  and as is often the case, I am at a loss for words as to what the judges saw in the winning portrait and even some of those exhibited but which did not win — which only underlines the base level of my ignorance.  I went without the camera so I returned the next day because there was one photograph that I couldn’t take my eyes off while I was there.  This was a portrait of Harriet Harman, sometime Deputy Leader and Acting Leader of the Labour Party.  It’s not a particularly flattering portrait, I felt.  Yet somehow, it reflects a steeliness, a hardness, a coldness that, I suppose, got her to where she is.  I think it’s all in the eyes, in the look, in the stare.

Harriett Harman

Actually, I didn’t go into town on the Friday just to photograph a portrait of a politician.  The previous day, as I mentioned, I was without the camera and as we waited at the bus stop on the way home, there was a highly animated and rather loud conversation behind us amongst four brightly dressed West African women.  So I went in the following day specifically to photograph people in and around Trafalgar Square.  You can get away with this usually in places where there are lots of people and lots of people photographing so that you don’t particularly stand out from the crowd.  I’ve chosen just a few that appealed to me.

Horatio Nelson

Horatio keeps an eye and has a handle on things going on below (though he only had one of each!)

Homeless & props

Homeless man with two props

StatuesStatues 1

Gentleman @Trafalgar

Somewhat out of place.  Trafalgar Square

Eyebrows

The eyebrows are real!!!

Finally, if you’re not in a crowd and you’re there alone, exposed, and taking photographs of people, you very often do stand out.  However, walking through Fitzrovia the other morning, I found a street where just standing around and looking is permitted and encouraged — at least that’s my take on it.

Ogle

 

Xing Charlotte Street

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