11/1/13

When I’m Cleaning Windows. (Not).

Some strange scrabbling noises at the front of the house this morning prompted me to stick my head out of the bedroom window.

A young man with a purposeful expression was climbing up a ladder.

Now a purposeful young man on a ladder may sound promising but I hadn’t ordered one and as he was clutching a bucket and a squeegee, there was no mistaking his intention.  Some tactful questioning revealed that he was, as I suspected, a window cleaner at the wrong house.
‘Uhh, I had a few beers last night, don’t really know what I’m doing this morning,’ he said,  switching his direction to reverse and dropping his squeegee on his descent. Continue reading

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10/7/13

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, Germany.

The exuberant paintings of the East Side Gallery, Berlin are often provocative, sometimes poke fun and often depict the dark side of the Communist regime.

The gallery sits on the banks of the River Spree in former East Berlin.   The ‘canvas’ is a 1.3km length of the Berlin Wall, one of the few remaining sections still standing. The gallery was founded in 1990, the year after the Wall came down, and features over 100 paintings from artists all over the world.

Naturally the Wall was loathed by the people of East Berlin; it was vandalised and scrawled with graffiti during the Communist era but the East Side Gallery, with its collection of bright paintings is a physical reminder of the regime that divided families and pulled friendships apart.

One of the most famous paintins is by Dmitri Vrubel of a kiss between Brezhnev, former Soviet leader and Honecker, former GDR leader.  The caption translates as My God, help me to survive this deadly love. 

the kiss, east side gallery, berlin wall, germany Continue reading

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10/4/13

The Ampelmann – East German Traffic Light Man

I was delighted by the Ampelmann, East German traffic light man, when I visited East Berlin in 1987, during the Communist era.

His jaunty hat looked in danger of slipping off in his feverish determination to get to the other side of the road, causing me to spend an unhealthy amount of time pondering the artistic merit of our traffic light designers in the UK.

I was back in Berlin last summer and thrilled to see the lively Ampelmann was still there, encouraging everybody to either march across roads or stand with our arms outstretched on the corner.       green ampleman east german traffic light man

The Ampelmann is a much-loved, very familiar symbol of the former GDR and he still stands (or marches)  happily on across roads in Eastern Germany today.  But his life wasn’t always so carefree.

He was conceived as a child-friendly traffic light by Karl Peglau who felt that humans, especially children, would respond more quickly to an image than to a changing light so his secretary, Anneliese Wegner, designed the two Ampelmannchen. Continue reading

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09/27/13

Rocking the Campanile,San Giorgio Maggiore Island,Venice

Top of the Campanile, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, Venice

At the top of the Campanile, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, Venice, you will find fresh air, fabulous views and a peaceful retreat from the sweaty throngs of the mainland below.

The tiny island of San Giorgio is just a short hop on the vaporetto (water bus) from San Marco. In the 10th century the marshy land was drained and the island given over to a Benedictine monastery which became one of the most wealthy and influential monasteries in the world until it was flattened by an earthquake in 1223.

No matter. After a quick rebuild, it was business as usual until the Republic of Venice was dissolved and the monks were kicked out.  It became a free port and the city’s artillery was later stored there. Now the monastery is back, together with an arts centre, open air theatre and a perpetual dribble of Venice-fatigued tourists in search of respite. Continue reading

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09/27/13

Tried & Convicted.Bridge of Sighs, Venice.

The Bridge of Sighs links the Doge’s Palace and prison.  Hapless convicts were bundled straight from the court, across the bridge, to the prison which is why the limestone palace on the right gleams prettily in the sunlight while the prison on the left of the canal looks, well, like a prison, I suppose.

The Bridge of Sighs is carved from limestone, was built in 1602 and links the two buildings high above the water. No getting out of that one then.

gondolier and bridge of sighs, venice

This gondolier seems quite unconcerned by the contrast between the gleaming palace on the right and the grotty prison on the left.

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09/12/13

Island Hopping in Venice – Torcello.

‘Torcello’ means ‘tower and sky’ but I thought it sounded like something you could eat or drink that was both sweet and delicious, possibly alcoholic. Bearing this in mind, and as it’s only a short hop on the vaporetto (water bus)  from Burano, it would have been just plain rude not to visit.

canal on torcello island, venice, italy

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09/3/13

Murano Island, Venice – Coloured Houses, Glass blowing and Chafing Thighs.

Murano island looks like a bubble coming out of fish-shaped Venice. Glass makers were kicked out of the city and sent to Murano at the end of the 13th Century so that should their enthusiastic huffing and puffing get out of hand, any resulting fires would be contained far more easily than in the maze of buildings on the mainland.

Murano Island, Venice Italy

First sight of Murano Island from the vaporetto

Like many people with a background in ceramics, I’m bonkers about glass and wanted to watch it being made. Actually what I really wanted was to have a go myself but there was fat chance of that but a stroll round a peaceful island was a very appealing thought after hot, tourist-riddled Venice.

At the vaporetto stop, a very beautiful and very exasperated attendant was dealing with a gaggle of confused tourists trying to get to Lido. Using one hand to rope the vaporetto to the pontoon and the other to flick her hair back in the way that makes an Italian woman look like a film star and a other woman of any other nationality look pretentious, she bawled: ‘No! No Lido!  Murano!  Moo.Rah.No.’  The crowd shuffled off, muttering into their maps, leaving the way clear for me to grab a window seat in the coolest part of the boat (which wasn’t very). Continue reading

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08/27/13

Wot Badge?

Trip Advisor keep emailing me. They say they’ll give me a badge when I’ve done 5 reviews.

Now I don’t wish to appear ungrateful but the last time I ever had the urge to acquire a badge was many years ago. Put it this way, I was still at the age where I was troubled by double Maths on a Friday afternoon.

I had a stack of badges on my school blazer and they all had things like Anarchy in the UK, The Stranglers and The Jam written on them. There was also a large one made out of rubbery stuff, shaped like a rat.  I was wild, you see. Anti-establishment and anguished. My badges, dog collar, safety pins and cropped, red hair said so.  The tragic rebel image took a battering though when it rained and the food colouring I’d used to dye my hair ran all over my face.

By 16, I sported a fashionable, mirrored badge, from which Lenin gazed solemnly out. These badges crept round certain parts of the school, finding their way onto the lapels of those of us who wished to display their Communist tendencies. We were so hip, a cut above the rest. The elite, in fact. An irony which escaped all of us.

At 17, in a flowery smock, with embroidered jeans, rattling with beads and reeking of patchouli oil, my badges said, Make Love Not War and Nuclear Power? No Thanks.

Aged 18 I went wandering round Europe and one by one, the hippie badges dropped off, went rusty or were lost by the roadside.

The last badge I acquired was for my son when he was 10.  ‘Jesus is coming,’ it said,  ‘Look busy’.

Since then, forcing my dentist to promise he’d give me a sticker in return for being allowed to drill my tooth, is the nearest I’ve come to needing any sort of sartorial adornment to boast of my achievements.

So thanks, Trip Advisor, I’ve grown out of badges. But if you would like to reward my contribution to your website with a large shiny new camera and a ticket to, well, just about anywhere, I’d be delighted to accept.

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03/24/13

Horror movies that aren’t.

H and I just watched half of The Amytville Horror.

I’d read the book as an easily spooked 12 year old so when we found the remake on Netflix I got all excited.
‘Oh go on, let’s watch it, it’s dead scary this is, it’s brilliant, go on, you’ll kack yourself watching this,’ I said, huddling under the duvet and taking an excited gulp of Booze Bargains, Vin de Cheapo.

We watched as blood dribbled out of light switches, fridge magnets arranged themselves into misspelled messages and the door to the boat house slammed all by itself. Continue reading

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03/8/13

Breakfast with Proust.

I was looking out of the kitchen window, at wet rooftops and a slate sky, the view only slightly brightened by a splash of vomit on the window, the result of a brief but exciting  liaison H had with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. (Sorry Mum, really sorry, I’ll clean it up, honest.)

Then from a bag of crusty rolls, a yeasty smell escaped and barged its way up my nose to my brain, flipping open a bright cine-screen from a very long time ago.

I was 19, had just pitched up in Algiers with my feckless fool of a fella. I’d tell you his name but as a compulsive fantasist, he had a whole string of names and I never found out which was the real one. Continue reading

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