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diaphania - Page 5

  • In the garden today...

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    ...was this lovely comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album). Unlike many other butterflies, it stayed put when I started to take pictures with my phone, so I had plenty of time to get a reasonably good shot. At first its ragged appearance made me think it was near the end of its brief life (three generations live and die each season) but now I realise the torn edges are a characteristic of the species. Perhaps it was so drunk on the verbena pollen that it did not notice me. It never stopped to fold its wings, so I didn't get to see the characteristic white punctuation mark which gives this attractive butterfly its name.

  • Making it live at the Proms

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    Which is better: a 'live' broadcast of a classical concert or being in the Royal Albert Hall for the performance itself? Last night's Prom included Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and centenarian Elliott Carter's Oboe Concerto. Using the BBC iPlayer I was able to compare the television broadcast, the radio version and the experience of actually being in the hall at the concert.

    The TV broadcast includes a revealing interview with soloist Nicholas Daniel. In it he talks about the rapt concentration on the faces of the crowd of Promenaders standing in the arena. The Proms audience is particularly attentive - unsurprising since the hall is dominated by a well-informed crowd of 400 or more who are so motivated by the music that they are prepared to stand for it. But join any audience at a live performance and you plug in to the collective experience in a way that never happens at home.

    Conductor David Robertson also gave an interview in which he identified Elliott Carter's ability to capture real experience in his music, in the same way as Virginia Woolf did in 'stream of consciousness' novels like Mrs Dalloway. Being in the Albert Hall it is the moment-by-moment collective experience that makes the music.

    Standing in the hall with my £5 ticket bought just before, I was hot, and not quite close enough. But when the conductor's baton hovered momentarily at the top of its first down beat, hushed expectation distilled into one moment of complete focussed concentration.

    In the fifth symphony the sound was rich with detail I'd never noticed in recordings, and the dynamic range was vastly greater than any recording. Even a static viewpoint sometimes distracts me and so I listen with my eyes closed. In the apparently familiar Beethoven there were moments of complete engagement in the music. This is consciousness changing  'flow experience'. When I was a child it happened so much more easily.

    The broadcasts are flush with background information, sophisticated camerwork and the BBC's determinaton to make everything upbeat and accessible. The sound is perfectly balanced. The broadcast 'experience' is almost too polished and content packed, (how I love close-ups of the hammed-up histrionics of some conductors and soloists!). For me, make it live any day.

  • An excess of brief

    If you're a designer you'll laugh - and then maybe weep. Clients should be forced to watch this before commissioning.

    Spotted on Ultrasparky

  • Underneath the arches...

    6335b84ea74844109d26163e6af1144c.jpg...there's an awful lot going on. Somebody should make a book about all the things to be found under London's 25 miles of railway arches. The arches are a natural home for wine vaults and fringe theatres. Dodgy car mechanics also thrive in the dark spaces  beneath curving Victorian brick, but you can get much more than your car serviced under the arches in Vauxhall, where dubious saunas cosy up to brightly lit cafés and DIY specialists.

    Last Sunday we had breakfast at the Café Madeira beneath the viaduct beside the Albert Embankment. I tucked into smoked salmon and scambled egg on foccacia - a bargain at £3.50. Everybody else seemed to be Portuguese. Respectable, decent, hat-wearing folk chatted convivially beneath big wall-mounted LCD screens. A bakery next door turns out dozens of reasonably-priced and tasty-looking Portuguese specialities. Further down the viaduct there's a gay gym, some clubs and several bars, all part of 'Voho' the Vauxhall 'gay village'.

    There's even art underneath the arches. Not far from the tourist disappointment that is the Lambeth Walk, the once grand Lambeth Ragged School has been sliced through by the railway. It was built by Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy FRS in 1851 as a memorial to his wife. Ragged Schools educated 'about 800 children' At the school's opening, Lord Ashley portentously declared that 'there is no reason whatever why Lambeth should not rescue itself from the present disgraceful opprobrium which attaches to it.'

    fdb2e5bbff708417ff3ab64f4c3c6c15.jpgAn art gallery called the Beaconsfield now occupies the one wing that remains of the school, hitting back at the railway by colonising the arch behind. Inside we heard Aura Satz's 'Glissolalia' - a weird and wonderful sound installation featuring disjointed barbershop singers, an endlessly sliding theremin, a musical saw and much else that echoed mysteriously round the high, empty former schoolroom.

    The gallery was founded with high-minded ambition of the kind the ragged school's founder would recognise. It aims to “fill a niche between the institution, the commercial and the ‘alternative’”.  It isn't exactly welcoming from the outside. In trepidation we pushed the buzzer beside a blank door set into a high wall - but the people inside couldn't have been nicer or more friendly.

     

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    bc525c89c1e3dbce95a2ffa35f702c98.jpgThere was an unexpectedly warm welcome at nearby Southbank House too. You can't help being struck by the fabulous Victorian building in Black Prince Road, all ornamented terracotta and glazed tilework set into the window ledges. A frieze over the doorway is one clue to the office block's distinguished past. If you look up, some fading lettering spells out the name 'Doulton'. A smiling caretaker led us to a gallery of photos that tell the story of how John Doulton built a vast business at Lambeth starting from a £100 investment in 1815. The Doultons' fortune was first made in glazed earthenware sewer pipes which saved the city from epdiemics of disease. Doultons then went on to make the fine china that was much admired by Queen Victoria.

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      All this and the Vauxhall City Farm too (where you can walk among floppy eared rabbits and chickens) just ten minutes walk from the Palace of Westminster. London never ceases to amaze.
  • Rub a dub dub

    67bcb08e7bab64ed98d29284b4d13818.jpgAn ancient family story describes a domestic science lesson (that's what they were called then). A teacher told an unenthusiastic child to 'put some elbow grease into it!' Some time later she was found searching high and low in a cupboard in a desperate attempt to find the stuff.

    Call me a reactionary fuddy duddy if you want, but here are some juicy hand-picked factoids about effort from today's media.

    In spite of all the campaigning to get kids to propel themselves to school, at many well-to-do London primary schools all pupils still arrive by car – most in gas-guzzling Chelsea tractors. The physics 'A' level now covers half the syllabus it did 10 or 20 years ago. As a result, British students no longer win the world 'Physics Olympiad'. 

    54% of state school teachers won't send their brightest pupils to Oxbridge because a degree at some of the best colleges in the land  'wouldn't be right for our pupils'. And only 1% of children's television shown in the UK is made here: the rest is bland cartoons and unchallenging sitcoms about 'American teenage obsessions like dating'. Age-specific educational programmes and programmes like Grange Hill that tackle British issues and values just don't get made any more.

    6ed7777e8dd3774e877aa7b7ce5ad11e.jpgAnd then there's cleaning products... Have you noticed how they almost always promise 'no need to rub'? That'd be too much effort. Gullible media-softened saps that we are, we put our blind faith in the miracle product. Once we let the genie out of the bottle, it will solve all our problems for us. Then with a warm glow and a clear conscience we swoosh the stuff down the drain, with no thought for the environmental consequences.

    Harrumph. Diaphania shuffles off to Tunbridge Wells making disgusted noises... 

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  • Ladele lack of judgement?

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    The unanimous decision of an employment tribunal that a Christian registrar working in Islington was unfairly discriminated against because she refused to perform partnership ceremonies for gay people has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy. That individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion is rightly enshrined in law – but in this case the law is once again proving itself to be an ass.

    The full judgment upholds a complaint of 'direct discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief'. Miss Ladele (who was in post before same sex partnerships were introduced) affirms that 'a civil partnership is a marriage in all but name... I feel unable to directly facilitate a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God's law' Two colleagues of Miss Ladele (one a Muslim) took demotion (with no loss of pay) to avoid performing the cermony and Miss Ladele was initially accommodated informally by the altering of rotas. But the working atmosphere (particularly with gay and lesbian colleagues) deteriorated and she was informed that she was required to stick to the terms of her contract and perform the ceremonies for people irrespective of their sexuality.

    One council diversity specialist told me he was in complete despair at the judgment. He sees it opening the door to any employee refusing duties on the grounds of religion or belief. "Imagine a BNP supporter refusing to serve immigrants on the grounds of 'belief'!"

    I'm not convinced that an employment tribunal establishes formal legal precedent in this way. But I am absolutely sure the tin marked 'registrar' now lists gay partnerships as one of its key ingredients. Anyone signing up to the job must take it - or leave it.

    POSTSCRIPT

    A number of lawyers are conviced that the case deserves to be overturned on appeal. Headoflegal writes:

    "if as the Tribunal says, Ms. Ladele's stance is based on her belief that marriage is a life-long bond between a man and a woman, why didn't she kick up this fuss about marrying divorcees?"
  • Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage

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    Some stunning images in BBC Two's new series presented by Francesco da Mosto in which he sails the great Venetian trading route all the way to Istanbul. In the second episode the journey begins with Pulia in Croatia - a vast Roman ampitheatre where a careless thumbs down from the crowd decided the fate of countless hapless gladiators. Da Mosto goes on to the Istrian chapel of St Mary near Bevam where 15th century frescoes depict the dance of death that comes to all, rich or poor, gladiator or not.

    After visiting a solitary lighthouse keeper passionate for the sea, Francesco arrives in Split, the city built around the remains of Diocletian's vast retirement palace. 

    It brought back memories of my visit there and to nearby Trogir - both sparkling backdrops to some of the most aggressively opulent yachts I've ever seen. Sometimes the television camera goes to places ordinary tourists never see. We visited the Temple of Jupiter in the palace, but didn't get to the first floor living room of the man who shares his space with a fragment of the temple's pediment, complete with a recently discovered carved portrait of the building's architect.

    For once the fairly constant background music (mostly by self-styled 'emotive music creator' Chris Nicolaides) didn't get in the way. It compliments the superb HD images and da Mosto's passionate and honey-tongued presentation style. Next week he covers the island of Korcula and Dubrovnik. 

    On the beach where I swam, da Mosto played picigin (a kind of variation on water polo) with the good-looking crew of his sailing boat. Nearby is a lido with the charged atmosphere of all those special places where swimming is taken seriously. Take me there now.

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  • In the garden today

    654e4e0ef97da85635769b5d4225d153.jpgThis roe deer fawn sprinted into the garden with its mother and a sibling this morning. The fields round here are now 'set-aside' and they provide good cover for roe deer, but this was the first time we'd seen one in the garden. The mother left her offspring behind when she jumped clear over the garden wall, leaving them terribly upset.
    I never realised they could utter such sad little cries! We did our best to chase them back into the field so that they could re-join her. We hope they don't become too frequent visitors as they can kill trees and lay waste to vegetable patches.
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  • Getting a little list

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    I do like lists. For the prevaricator, the making of them is a satisfying way of delaying the work itself. For the anorak (and we all secretly have an anorak within, don't we?) lists are all about neatness and order and collecting. Like butterflies pinned down under glass, lists fix the worryingly mutable world.

    The UNESCO list of world heritage sites satisfies several of these instincts. Is the list complete? What are the selection criteria? Which have I been to? Where to next? In England, Bath; Blenheim; Stonehenge; Westminster; Durham and Canterbury all make their expected appearances. But not Oxford or the landscape gardens at Stowe or Lincoln or Wells Cathedrals or Windsor Castle? And what about the Lake District?

    The most recent UK addition is the newly cleaned-up satanic mills of Cornwall and West Devon. Other 'post-industrial' tourist sites are Saltaire (worth a visit but is it a world heritage site to match the tower of London?) and Derwent Valley Mills where Richard Arwright worked and there are '680,000 bobbins on display'. That is a lot of bobbins. And should I mention Liverpool?

    9a7b2a84074e40a21430547bcbe0892f.jpgf8a24eb5733869eb952b7fd32064d77c.jpgIn Sweden there are several longwave masts just waiting to be admired. And Bauhaus architecture in Tel Aviv, too. It's evident that some countries are better than others at agenda pushing.

    Reasons for smugness, and for poetry: Bruges, the Plantin-Moretus, Split, Dubrovnik, Trogir, Chartres, Mont St Michel, Amiens, Versailles, Pont du Gard, [the whole of?] Bordeaux, Paris, Cologne, the Vatican, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Florence, Pompeii, San Gimignano, Vicenza, Sienna, the Amalfi, Naples, Verona, Tivoli, St Petersburg, Alhambra, Guadi, Ibiza, Drottningholm, Göreme, Istanbul, Troy, Pamukkale [no Ephesus?], And the Stautue of Liberty and the The Red Fort, Fatephur Sikri and the Taj Mahal. And some others I missed.

    a1bb787fa08278bdd165436331359e3c.jpgBut I was reassured to find plenty more for my own heritage site 'to do' list. Khajuraho, Aachen, the Acropolis, Mount Athos, Ravenna, Rietveld Schröder House, Butrint in Albania (been wondering about it for ages), Sintra, Valetta. Mérida, Salamanca, Route of Santiago de Compostela and a reassuring heap of places in former Soviet Republics including Riga, Český Krumlov and Tallin. And with less footprint, Hadrian's Wall and the Giant's Causeway.

    That's enough lists.

  • Blankets and blazons

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    Is it just me? I like old blanket labels. The design of some of these little scraps of silky cloth is fascinating. This 1950s blanket with its evocative label was brought by sea all the way from Australia over 40 years ago. Because she has a Physician chillproof blanket, the happy lady with the bedside flowers will soon be well again. With that sales pitch and with such a striking embroidered design, it's no wonder they sold.

    When they were younger my nieces were obsessed with the silky feeling of all kinds of labels. On blankets or teddy bears or sewn into clothing, stroking them was the perfect comforter. 'Continental quilts' (with all their associations of bright sunlit roms and Scandinavian health and efficiency) are all very well, but on a really chilly night you can't beat the comfort of a really good heavy woollen blanket.

    9590fc02ad8556e6a341df42bf8912ee.jpgccb665ad54d76723a095def83976fd08.jpgHere in Oxfordshire there was a long tradition of blanket making (they used 'tenter hooks' that are the origin of the familiar phrase). An excellent site, from which some of these images are taken, describes how until the last factory closed in 2002 the Witney blanket was a byword for quality. Made using local wool with a soft spun yarn that formed a fleecy pile, they were widely imitated until a trades descriptions case in 1907 put a stop to such 'passing off'.

    At its height, thousands of people were worked in the blanket making industry in Witney. The museum there holds a guardbook which contains over 150 blanket label designs used by just one manufacturer in the town.

    24ea33f2a3451b37b956e863d07c1b0d.jpgA special kind of Witney blanket was sold to the hugely powerful Hudson's Bay Company in Canada which traded them with native Americans for beaver furs. These point blankets are an early example of a graphical language being developed to symbolise a product standardisation system. The blankets were graded according to their size and warmth using a system of striped marks which showed up when the folded blankets were stacked together.

    There is a full description of the grading system on the Hudson's Bay Company website.

    In November 1779, M. Maugenest met with the Board at Hudson's Bay House in London to deliver his "Proposals of the Terms" under which he would enter into Hudson's Bay Company's service. He offered several suggestions for improving the growing inland trade from Fort Albany along the west coast of James Bay. The sale of "pointed" blankets was one of his suggestions. By December 1779, the sample blankets had been received by the Committee and an order was issued for 500 pairs of "pointed" blankets; 100 pairs of each, in 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5 and 3 point sizes. Although blankets had been a staple of the fur trade to the natives and Hudson's Bay Company men prior to 1780, it was not until the first shipment to Fort Albany in the spring of that year that they were shipped to the posts on a regular basis.

    By 1860 full standardization of both sizes and colours had been established.
  • Thinking differently

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    A different way of thinking on Jessica Hagy's site. Her index cards express daily dilemmas as pithy graphs and witty Venn diagrams. And now they are in print, too.

  • Wren seen from a ziggurat

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    A quick trip to London's Number 1 Poultry today. If you can get to the impressive roof garden there are stunning views that more than make up for the irksomely courageous whimsy of the controversial architecture.

    Peter Palumbo spent decades acquiring the site site piecemeal from 1958. His scheme to demolish the listed Mappin & Webb building and replace it with what Prince Charles called a 'giant glass stump' - a monumentally impressive bronze coloured steel and glass tower by Mies van der Rohe - was decisively thrown out in 1984.

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    Palumbo's answer to his critics was to appoint RIBA medal-winner James Stirling to design a vigorously jokey post-modernist block.

    Stirling thought he had only a 50-50 chance of success. "I do regard this site as being very special, at this spider's web intersection surrounded by all those heroes like Lutyens and Hawksmoor and Dance. It's the quintessence of London."

    c747668cb81239ed04cbca0c94ca4cc0.jpg3631e743e2c45d3131851ceb816ea55f.jpgLike a stranded submarine decked out in pink stripes, the triangular building seems desperately to be sailing its giant conning tower up the slope towards the Mansion House. The stepped frontage ripples with fiddly bits. Triangles are punched out of the facade and theatrical games are played with circles and squares. The building has a bunker-like rear that currently accommodates a Wetherspoons.

    But it uses Portland stone and granite, and it contains echoes of the old buildings on site (if anyone remembers them) so it could hardly upset the purists, could it? Could it ever. Prince Charles demonstrated his familiarity with the latest technology when he said it looked like a 'broken 1930s wireless set'.

    Delayed by recession, the design was posthumously completed after Stirling died at the hands of an incompetent anaesthetist. Since then it has regularly won polls for both the best and worst building in London.

    ee3f9d233d68fdcdff2dd306f836a279.jpgWalk into the open rotunda at the centre of the development (with its irritating Dayglo coloured window casements) and take the lift to the Conran-run 'Coq d'Argent' roof garden restaurant and a whole new impression forms.

    Wisteria and hawthorn flourish. Fragrant box hedging leads to stunning views of the gherkin and Wren City churches from the glass ship's bridge, either side of the conning tower. Well worth a visit, especially on a Sunday when the people paid to keep rubber-neckers away from the rooftop are less likely to be on duty.


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