Heritage – Another excuse for commercialism

Stone Henge

Stone Henge

So the government has decided not to go ahead with a contribution to the Stone Henge visitors centre. Obviously there will be howls of anguish but really, who cares? Stone Henge is there and it has a road running past it. If you want to see Stone Henge drive past it. I think there’s a car park there too so you can stop if you want.

But that’s not good enough for some people. They say we need a visitors centre. A visitors centre? Consider what that means. Consider all the other visitors centres you’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. A visitors centre is a themed set of shops and restaurants. It’s a mini shopping mall. If you want to visit a themed shopping mall go to Heathrow Airport but don’t insist that a prehistoric wonder requires an outlet of Star Bucks – it doesn’t.

I imagine that the driving force behind these centres are the retailers who will have captive markets. I notice that the plan is to place the visitors centre around a mile away from the stones and to eradicate the current road running past the stones. Probably there will be some bloody buses or a light railway to take people from the stones tot he centre. The obvious aim is to stop anyone seeing the stones without paying to get into the centre and be lured into the shops selling Stone Henge calenders and druid T-Shirts.

We don’t need this damn commercialism! We don’t need a branch of McDonalds at every tourist attraction. A Human being can live for about three days without water and weeks without food. The aboriginal people of Australia roamed the land and survived on what they found there. The prehistoric people who built Stone Henge had no access to sandwiches in polythene bags or coffee with warning labels or toilets with the constant sound of hand dryers.
You don’t need to buy refreshment. If you want refreshment go to the local mall. If you want to see a prehistoric wonder, get your cagoule on and take a walk over to the stones. Take a thermos flask with you and have a cup of tea while you’re there.

But please let’s not concrete over yet more of the countryside in the name of heritage.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

Torso of a High General

Torso of a High General

I wrote a blog article recently knocking the content at the Getty Centre in Los Angeles but praising the building.  I failed to mention that I had earlier visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Blimey Mrs. It’s a corker!

The Metropolitan has art from all over the world. I’d seen some of the types before but what I found completely stunning was the quality of the pieces. It seemed that if there was only one perfect example still in existence of a type of art from somewhere in the world then the Metropolitan would have it and all beautifully displayed and perfectly lit.

I was stuck by one piece in particular. This was a damaged statue with the title Torso of a High General from 4th Century Egypt. The piece is of a young man but the torso has sheered away revealing the raw sandstone. It occurred to me that, for people who had not seen carving of this quality before, it must have seemed miraculous. Sandstone in it’s raw state is uneven and quite obviously inanimate. Yet in the hands of a craftsman it takes on the appearance of a man. Even the damaged example had  all the strength and vibrancy of a living body even after 2000 years!

If there is one museum you visit in New York then it should be the Metro.

Marble Head of a Woman, 1st Century Rome

Marble Head of a Woman, 1st Century Rome

Marble Head of Athena, Rome, AD 138-92

Marble Head of Athena, Rome, AD 138-92

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sea Bear Head, Haida, British Colombia, 19th Century

Sea Bear Head, Haida, British Colombia, 19th Century

Forehead Mask, British Colombia or Alaska, 1840

Forehead Mask, British Colombia or Alaska, 1840

Smiling Figure, Mexico, Remojadas, 7th-8th Century

Smiling Figure, Mexico, Remojadas, 7th-8th Century

Female Mask (Gabanda), Democratic Republic of Congo, Pende Peoples, 19th-20th Century

Female Mask (Gabanda), Democratic Republic of Congo, Pende Peoples, 19th-20th Century

Carry on England

Carry On England

Carry On England

As I walked along Western Road in Hove on Sunday afternoon the sun shone, flowers adorned the pubs and the pavements thronged with England supporters. Optimism was in the air.

At 3pm I switched on the box and saw that Carry On Up The Kyber was just about to start on Channel 4. For a joke, I texted a friend to suggest he watch it. He replied that if I only watch one game this year then England vs. Germany should be it. Needless to say, I watched the game.

From the start, all the action was in the England half yet the English defence seemed thin on the ground. After England went two nil down I felt I couldn’t watch any more and switched channels to find Kenneth Williams as the The Khasi of Kalabar encouraging a bunch of Indian “Burpers” to fight the British. The Burpers refuse, claiming that it was a well known fact that the British were invincible. A pity the Germans didn’t think so.

About this time a cheer went up from the pub outside my flat and I, hurriedly (and guiltily), switched back to the game. England had scored and the commentary was claiming that England had come alive. Within minutes came the disallowed England goal and the commentary quickly focused on this setback and forgot the game in hand. Suddenly Germany scored again and by Germany’s 4th goal the commentators were speculating over the future of English football. England staggered on to a shameful 4 -1 defeat.

The analysis started Immediately and today The Sun described the disallowed goal as “a red herring which merely papers over the cavernous cracks in England’s display” – Excellent! Much of the criticism seems to come down to the accusation that the system fails to nurture new talent, preferring to buy it in from abroad.

I agree that this is part of the problem and I suggest that another part of the problem is the egocentric, “me first” nature of English football. Everyone wants to be a star but without commitment to the team.

Consider my own actions when England went 2 – o down. Rather than sticking with them I had switched channels and the commentators had practically given up all hope when Germany got their third goal. Can you imagine the Koreans, the Japanese or the Americans giving up so quickly?

All this probably reflects Britain’s comparative decline in the world and the wider British culture. We expect that we should be amongst the top rank and when we’re not we lose heart. We need to take a good look in the mirror.

Other nations, with less baggage, will see each success as a step forward and each defeat as a warning against complacency. England seldom displays such purpose or determination and oscillates between euphoria and despair. We see success as proof of innate superiority and defeat as an inevitable nail in our coffin.

When England succeeds we proclaim our team as heroes but when England fail we crucify them. A so called football supporter supports nothing more than a dream. He does not even support his local club; instead he picks a Premier League side which employs a bunch of foreigners to entertain him while he drinks. The premier league has no allegiance to England or English football and it has no supporters. The Premier League has merely an international TV audience of customers bound together by their shared purchase of associated merchandising. The Premier league is to football what Hollywood is to film: superficial, over paid and lacking soul.

Both the obsession with instant stardom and the tendency to buy in talent from abroad are not limited to football. British business lobbies government to allow immigration of workers with required skills while education and training are neglected and the X-Factor encourages youngsters to believe they can become stars over night.

Football was part of our nation’s soul but we have sold our soul to pay for replica kit, Sky Sports and holidays in Tenerife.

Come on England? – More like Carry On England!

Driving Culture

Traffic in Port Harcourt

Traffic in Port Harcourt

While in America I had hired a car. Americans seem to ride more than drive and when the traffic stops they leave vast spaces between each car. They seem more tolerant of poor driving but this may be because they lack lane discipline. Cars weave between lanes without warning.

In Nigeria the driving style was to never give an inch to any other driver. I remember a journey crawling along a narrow street in Lagos approaching a crossroads. Once we reached the intersection every car was revving their engine madly and pushing forward  to gradually edge past the other cars which were all doing the same thing. Normally, in Nigeria, I had a driver but one Christmas I had to drive myself and determined to show Nigerians how it should be done. My plan was doomed from the start. I waited forlornly for someone to let me out into the moving traffic but if I had not abandoned my stupid idea and pushed my way out I would be waiting there to this day.

It is the same with the Nigerian corruption. It is all very well claiming moral superiority and deciding that you will pay no bribes but you will achieve nothing. One cannot eradicate corruption by example any more than one can force lane discipline on Americans by example. This is a lesson I believe should be understood by armchair stay at homes who lecture multinational companies on their behaviour in the developing world.

On occasions a Nigerian would become so frustrated by the lack of progress that he would emerge from his car and start directing traffic himself until his own driver was able to navigate the intersection at which point he would re-enter his car and leave the whole tangled mess behind him. I did this myself on several occasions and it gave one a great feeling of elation as one finally gained the open road and sped away into the hot night.

Another boon to Nigerian traffic control were the disabled. I vividly recall a one legged man who would stand on the podium provided for the permanently absent traffic police and direct the traffic with his crutch. As the traffic passed the drivers would sling him a handful of Naira.

bangkok traffic

bangkok traffic

A few years ago I drove across Bangkok in the rush hour. Starting around 5pm, I reached my destination by 9pm but on the wrong side of the road which was divided by a concrete barrier. I continued and, noticing that U-turns were prohibited, I turned left and then left again into a car park where I re-emerged and turned right back onto the correct side of the road. A traffic cop stopped me and accused me of making a U-turn. He explained that although I had not actually made a U-turn I had achieved the same result and had therefore broken the law. Unlike the British police he seemed to enforce the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law.

Back in the UK this morning I drove north on the M23 and, as the lanes merged into the A23, I indicated left but the other driver refused to let me in. My initial reaction was that the driver was an anally retentive moron but then I saw the driver was a woman. It is a fact that women do not let you in. I once knew a salesman who said that he never let cars pull out from side streets as it was a “a sign of weakness”. I don’t believe that the reason that women do not let you in is driven by this same insecurity but by a preoccupation with following the rules. If you have right of way, why should give it up?

Men (excluding salesmen) appear more cooperative when they drive. At the meeting of Woodean Drive and Dyke Road Avenue in Brighton each morning cars take turns to join the main road. This admirable cooperation is interrupted only by women and, presumably, salesmen. Perhaps this is related to Enoch Powell’s comment that women are not “clubable”.

I have heard that a study was carried out in the United States to test the effectiveness of the process for launching Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICMBs) and that the test provided that the launch technicians believed that they were initiating a real nuclear missile launch. It was found that women would always launch the missiles as they had been instructed but that a percentage of men would refuse. The men would fall back on their own reasoning and decide that since all they could achieve was wholesale murder there was no point in proceeding. I have heard that more women in the UK support the introduction of capital punishment than men.

It is interesting that my reaction on seeing that the driver who failed to let me in was a woman was to dismiss the incident whereas I would have continued to feel aggravated if the driver had been a man. I guess this is related to some kind of male competition.

Rome stag and a complicated British Airways sandwich

Outside the Pantheon

Outside the Pantheon

On Saturday I caught an early flight to Rome for a friend’s stag night. Our hotel was close to Rome Termini and I walked there from the station. The Italian at the desk told me: ”Your room is not ready. Come back at 2”. After returning from the United States I had commented on how the English appear terse and rude. Obviously the Italians are no better.

I dropped my bags and took a taxi to Castle Saint Angelo where I met my friends and had a beer. Rome is quite a contrast to the United States and efficiency takes a second place to ancient history. Central Rome is stuffed full of the ancient world and from the top of the Castle one can look out over Rome. The view is fantastic.

In our younger days we may have done a through-er. That is to say, we may have started drinking in the afternoon and continued drinking through into the evening and early morning. However, our advancing years dictated a return to the hotel where a short siesta allowed us to catch our second wind.

On regaining consciousness three taxis carried us to the Pantheon where we found a restaurant and settled at an outside table. The waiter was a comedian and kept us laughing all night as we sat eating pasta and drinking red wine. A street performer ran through Pavaroti’s standards and memories of the 1995 world cup returned. After receiving the bill we realised that our waiter really was a comedian but having had a satisfyingly enjoyable evening we coughed up and headed for the bar near the hotel where we talked bollocks with a couple from the Czech republic.

On Sunday morning we visited the Colosseum. The area was thronged with all the trappings of tourism: Guides, souvenirs, us etc. I guess ’twas ever thus and in a way that is part of the fun. I thought of the Edwardian tourists in in A Room With A View and The Life of Brian when they sold stones and bags of gravel just prior to the stoning. When we gaze upon wonders of the ancient world it is tempting to imbue the creators of these artefacts with awesome and ponderous spirituality. Thankfully Monty Python have shown us a vision of the reality of these people who would have been more akin to modern day builders. While the architects of Canary Wharf and the Gherkin may well hob nob with royalty and have their heads up their arses the actual builders probably supped tea from a saucer, whistled at passing young women and had their arses sticking out the backs of their trousers. Likewise with the Colosseum, it is comforting to realise that the Colosseum building site would have had more in common with Auf Wiedersehen Pet than with Spartacus.

I noticed one “guide” muttering into a microphone and a friend explained: “That’s how it’s done now”. Each member of the tour group wears headphones to receive the wisdom from the droning self appointed guide. Not very sociable if you ask me. Having been on guided tours in the past I enjoyed comments and banter from the audience to supplement the, sometimes dry, rhetoric of the guide. This obsession we have with individualism renders us all spectators. We mistakenly believe that entertainment is something that is done too us rather than something in which we engage – I fantasised about obtaining a transmitter and interrupting the guide’s monologue with musings of my own.

As we reached the restaurant the skies opened and the rain poured down. A canvas canopy protected most of us and a party of Americans sitting nearby hoisted umbrellas but refused to budge.

On the aircraft home I am handed a sandwich with a label listing approximatively 200 ingredients. After landing I queued interminably at passport control in the UK to be greeted by a jolly English passport control officer who apologised for the wait and hoped I had a good time in Rome. We English are not so bad after all, I muse, though, obviously the officer is the exception who proves the rule.

Gatwick Airport have now engaged the services of two separate companies for North terminal Long Stay parking. Two separate buses ferry passengers between the terminal and the car parks but, predictably, none of the passengers, including myself, know which company run the car park in which they have parked. The driver patiently points this out to each and every passengers who boards the bus and each passenger then engages in a short period of confusion before realising that the company name is printed on their ticket.

After arriving at the car park I found that I had not recorded the location of my car an spent five minutes wandering around pressing the button on my car key and listening for my car to beep. It did and I returned home.

Are Americans all Potty?

Are Americans All Potty?

Are Americans All Potty?

Very often after returning from the U.S. I contrast the chirpy cheerfulness of sales staff in the U.S. with the monosyllabic and apparent indifference of their counterparts in the UK. Arriving at Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon I bought a ticket for the bus and then a bottle of juice and was confronted by aforementioned monosyllabic staff.

For some reason, this time, I was more philosophical. Yes, the guy could have done with some training in how to relate to customers but on the other hand he was being himself. After dealing with car hire and mobile phone companies in the U.S. I had started to speculate that the U.S. forces people to modify their behaviour to suite the system. This arrangement is good in that it increases efficiency and allows greater material prosperity but I wonder whether the cost is increased alienation of people from society.

The Virgin Atlantic flight from L.A. to London had been on an airbus A300-600. The seats on this aircraft allowed virtually no room for one to move ones legs. I recall that, in the past, long haul flights made a big issue of telling you to perform leg exercises and I believe that this was to counter a tendency of long haul passengers to suffer blood clots in the legs following a flight. This is known as known as Deep Vein Thrombosis.

The emphasis on efficiency has led Virgin to pack the seats closer and closer together so that now it is not possible for even a person of my modest stature to raise ones legs once seated. Consequently the airline no longer deems it necessary to encourage passengers to exercise and I wonder whether the instances of known as Deep Vein Thrombosis, which can be fatal, have increased. I also wonder whether these chairs conform to any safety standards and whether Deep Vein Thrombosis is considered within these standards.

England was warm and sunny and I boarded a National Express bus to Brighton. Arriving home around 7:30pm I implemented my strategy for negating the effects of jet lag. There are two important factors to countering jet lag. The first is to attempt to stay awake during the daylight hours of the destination both on the aircraft and as soon as one arrives. For this one needs some kind of activity to perform on arrival. The second factor is to consume alcohol just prior to the desired sleep period.

As I had arrived home in early evening my course was clear. I occupied a couple of hours preparing and consuming a curry and then opened a bottle of beer.

I switched on Radio 4 and considered my three weeks in the United States. While driving around in California I had listened to talk radio. While American PBS fights a bravely to encourage intelligent debate it is a battle it seems destined to lose. I listened with interest to shock jocks and dismissed the right wing as bigoted. I listened to the liberals and began to think that there might be reasoned debate but soon realised that the left too is obsessed with over simplification and adherence to dogma.

A friend of mine once met an American woman who claimed to be allergic to glass and insisted on drinking beverages through a straw. He deduced from this that all Americans are potty and this is a widely held view in the United Kington. Personally I temper this with acceptance of difference and the knowledge that the United States is a vast country with numerous disparate people.

However, I sometimes find myself wondering, if Americans appear potty to the British, why do we not hold similar opinions of other nationalities? It is possible that pottyness is merely the most prominent defining character for Americans and that other nationalities too have their defining characters but I think that what is more likely is that the language we share with Americans enables us to gain an insight into their world view and that we are denied this insight with other nationalities. This reasoning is strengthened as I believe that Brits also consider Australians to be potty. Perhaps if we were fluent in Spanish or Chinese we would consider them potty too?

I guess that if an understanding of the language of a foreign country means that on is capable of appreciating their pottyness then, as English is the most common second language, it is the British who must appear the most potty and that is a stereotype that I am very happy to live with.

Hendrys beach and Lake Cachuma

Hendrys Beach

Hendrys Beach

Dog walking along Hendrys beach was the order of the day yesterday morning. In fact dog walking seems to be all this beach is used for. After lunch I headed down to the marina. On Wednesday afternoons Santa Barbara Yacht Club runs a race known as Wet Wednesdays. I walked around the pontoons looking for a boat that needed crew. Most did not as the wind was light but eventually I was invited onto a J125. A beautiful boat with a good crew. The sea was flat and there was about 4 to 5 knots of wind. We didn’t break any records but it was a wonderful sight to see about 30 boats out.

Cereal Bowl

Cereal Bowl

One thing I like about America is that they continue to innovate. In the shower this morning I noticed that the plug hole had a little mesh thing to catch all the hairs but this little mesh thing was removable! – Brilliant! In L.A. I had seen a bike rack on the front of a bus and this morning I noticed yet another idea: a cereal bowl with an embedded straw. The idea is that you eat the cereal and then suck the milk up through the straw.

View over Santa Barbara

View over Santa Barbara

After breakfast I drove up to Lake Cachuma about 15 miles north west of Santa Barbara. The countryside around here is fantastic. Rolling hills, grass, oaks trees and numerous wild flowers. Then back east along winding roads up into the mountains. Amazing views over Santa Barbara and space to stop on bends which stick right out with steep drops. Many signs of the previous summer’s wild fires. Bushes burnt grey and black but new growth everywhere. Up here it is quiet. No traffic noise, just the sounds of the birds and the bees. In a landscape such as this one has a feeling for the land and I imagined the days before the freeways when a journey from Lake Cachuma to the sea might have taken several days.

By half past twelve I felt a little peckish and so set the GPS to the Cajun Kitchen and drove back to Santa Barbara for breakfast.

Santa Barbara

chalk painting

chalk painting

Arrived in Santa Barbara around lunch time on Sunday and was picked up by a friend from the station and taken straight to the Cajun Kitchen for breakfast. Excellent! Then back to her house for a sunday dinner with her family.

Rolly Pollies or Lice?

Rolly Pollies or Lice?

On Monday morning we took the dog for a walk along with her kids. The kids kept picking up little bugs which they called “rolly pollies” but which I insist are probably lice. The reader may judge for themselves by the photo I took. Later we stopped off at Santa Barbara Mission where a display of chalk paintings had just taken place. These were large images drawn in chalk on the ground and several were remarkable in their quality and detail. Surprisingly it was here that I noticed a group of gardeners vacuuming cacti.

I then wandered around Down Town Santa Barbara. State Street seems much the same. A mixture of bars, restaurants and shops. I walked along the coast to East Beach. When I first came to Santa Barbara in 1994 I would spend the mornings laying on the lawns by the sea near East beach reading a book. I now found myself wondering why there were no benches to sit on. A sign of my age no doubt.

The mist clearing over Santa Barbara

The mist clearing over Santa Barbara

I walked on the pier and stood watching the mountains just as the mist began to clear. Santa Barbara weather is amazing. In the mornings it is cool, misty and overcast. Then, in the space of a few minutes, the mist is blown away and a beautiful, hot and sunny days begins. As I loitered taking photographs I was asked by four separate groups of people to take their photo. They obviously spotted my inherent talent. Alternatively it may have been because there was nobody else around. Surprisingly two of the groups of people were British and we chatted about Heathrow, Hackney and America.

The mist clearing over Santa Barbara

The mist clearing over Santa Barbara

The entrepreneurial spirit of the American people is a cliché but I am often surprised at just how ubiquitous this can be. While walking back along the pier I noticed that some homeless guy had set up a game for passers by to flip a coin into a paper cup dangling from a stick. Several coins had already been thrown and I tossed a quarter his way.

I walked back up State Street past the old Schooner Inn. In 1994 I stayed here for about three months paying $15 a night. The shared bathrooms meant that after an evenings in the bars I would get up in the middle of the night dressed in only a sarong and wander the corridors in search of a bathroom. Inevitably I would forget my key and be forced down to the reception desk to get a spare. In one instance I was informed that I was “butt naked”. Sadly this excellent hotel has gone up market and has been renamed the Santa Barbara Hotel. They now want $200 a night and presumably the bathrooms are en suite and there is no need to wander the corridors late at night in search of somewhere to piss.

Opposite the Schooner used to be Kings Tavern and this has now been renamed the Old Kings Road London Pub and now has a Union Flag across the entrance. Joe’s cafe is still going strong but Mel’s Bar further up State Street has closed. I spent many a hot and happy evening whiling away the time in Mel’s and fondly recall singing New York, New York and Nessun Dorma at the top of my voice here. OK, so I did not know the words but tiresome details such as these were not important in a bar like Mel’s. As far as I am concerned the closure of Mel’s has taken the Bar out of Santa Barbara.

Los Angeles

Windows

Windows

As the aircraft descended into L.A. My left ear which had gone deaf as we lifted off from JFK became incredibly painful. The airline had no pain killers so I just sat and endured it and it eased off a little as we landed.

I was met by a friend and at LAX and we picked up some drugs at a shopping mall and ate some Vietnamese food before calling it a day.

On Friday I took it easy. My friend has a bedsit apartment downtown. It reminded me very much of the apartment occupied by Bruce Willis’ character in “The 5th Element” except that it was a little bigger and the shower did not rotate away into the wall and there was no drug addled lunatic outside with a blaster pistol.

The next day I walked to a restaurant and ate an American breakfast then returned to the apartment for an afternoon snooze. In New York I had done a lot of walking and I think that this and the cold had warned me out.

In the afternoon I strolled around and into the jewellery district. Downtown L.A. is all clean lines and wide roads. The trees were in blossom with some mauve flowers. In evening I met up with some friends at a restaurant named Pete’s Cafe and Bar on Main Street.

On Saturday I drove to UCLA to drop my friend off for a day’s studying while I went on to the Getty Centre. I entered and was immediately in a long car queue. After parking the car in a multi story car park and getting the elevator I found myself in an enormous queue. I had chosen some kind of family day and groups of tourists had descended on the place. However, the queue moved and pretty soon I was surprised to find myself standing on a station. The Getty museum have their own mass transit which takes customers up the hill to the museum.

Picture Plate with the abduction of Helen by Francesco Xanto Avelli

Picture Plate with the abduction of Helen by Francesco Xanto Avelli

The museum building is fantastic. Cut white stone, open, very well proportioned with great views. Absolutely beautiful. I can’t say I was struck by the contents too much and perhaps this is because I am a philistine who has visited larger museum throughout the world. Also this is a private collection so we should not expect it to rival the Metropolitan in New York. One pavilion was dedicated to de Vinci but the blurb on many exhibits seemed to say that the piece “may have been” , “could have been” or “is thought to have been”….something or other. All very great and worthy but not much that really struck me. Some nice plates. I think the real star of this attraction is the building itself.

I wandered around and took pictures of the views. Moving to an area less frequented by visitors I was informed that this was a private area. I apologised and the vinegar tongued old crone said sarcastically: “You just wandered here like a lost lamb”. A tad unnecessary I thought and a shame as the two women would have made a good photo.

Later I drove down to Marina Del Ray near Santa Monica and then back to pick up my friend from UCLA. In an effort to kill some time I searched for somewhere to stop and get a drink and use a restroom. This proved an almost impossible task! The area around UCLA appeared to have nowhere to stop! In fact, once I picked her up we found somewhere within 15 minutes but I think one thing to consider about driving in L.A. is that you need to have a destination in mind.

Chairs at The Getty

Chairs at The Getty

In the evening we ate at BJs Brew House. Good pizza.

This morning I am on the Amtrak up to Santa Barbara. The woman in front and to my left has talked almost non-stop since Union Station in L.A. which is a very good looking building. Very art deco and it must have looked great in the days of Bogart and Garbo. She is now on to her ailments and what Karen’s doctor said. Something about HDL (High-density lipoprotein).

As the train runs parallel to the highway I can see what appears to be a four wheel drive vehicle tailgating a mobile home awfully closely. More likely the four wheel drive is being towed. I did the trip from L.A. to Santa Barbara many years ago. It was night and I could see the Kohoutek comet clearly in the night sky. Today the sky is obscured by mist but we have now passed Oxnard and the mist is clearing to reveal a clear blue sky. The sea has just appeared 30 metres to our left. Less now. And even less now!!

Union Station

Union Station

While in L.A. I bought enough cold and cough medicines to treat the third world for malaria. Pharmacies abound in L.A. Each one having extensive ranges or products so specific that one needs to consult a professional to decide which to buy. I suspect this is deliberate and inevitably the professional advised numerous pills and embrocations.

My cold is starting to ease as we approach Santa Barbara but my left ear is still partially deaf.

JFK

Thursday morning I took the A train from Tribeca out to JFK airport. The usual ghastliness ensued as I was forced to remove boots and deposit practically everything in a plastic tray to be X-rayed. If al qaeda have achieved anything then it is to make travel an unpleasant experience. One can only hope that if Osama Bin Laden ever sneaks into the U.S. then he will be forced to remove his sandals, beard and turban which will be duly lost along with his false passport and he will have to enter some lengthy and pointless process for recovery of lost luggage. The git.

However, once through the anti-al Qaeda barrier JFK is comparatively pleasant compared to British airports. One is not deposited in a shopping Mall as one is in the UK. On does not have to wait until 2 minutes before departure to discover one’s gate and once one gets to the gate the seating is pleasantly spacious and overlooks the aircraft which contrasts dramatically with the tomb like ambiance of the departure gates at Heathrow.

Since leaving home I have developed severe neck pain which eased off as I reached New York City to be replaced by a painful sore throat and cough. As I prepare for California I speculate on what new ailment awaits me and, if the chaffing caused by extensive walking in the heat and humidity of NYC is anything to go by, I think I know what it will be.

High Line

High Line

High Line

Wednesday evening I visited the school that the kids of a friend go to in Tribeca. Kids from 4 to maybe 12 years old. A big event was taking place. A theatrical production relating the story of a mean developer who wants to destroy a rural area to exploit the oil beneath. The kids were all dressed as trees and tree spirits and birds and three were dressed as developers. When the developers removed their outer garments they were revealed to be wearing BP T-shirts. In the end Mother Nature (and her assistants) ensured that good prevailed and the rural area was saved. Of course the investors in the oil company would be worse off and this would be reflected in the dividend payments to shareholders which usually means pension funds and so I guess the net result would be that some poor widow would be forced to go without heating in winter. Did Mother Nature consider this I wonder, or was she too wrapped up in her trees and birds to consider the economic realities of the 21st century?
I jest of course.

On the walls of the school was work created by the pupils. I saw one large wall sheet which advised tactics on getting through an exam. On the left was the Old Thinking which included thoughts such as:

  • This is all wrong, I will have to erase it all and start again.
  • I can’t do this.
  • Everyone else thinks this easy, I must be an idiot.
  • If I ask a question I will look stupid.

And on the right was the New Thinking:

  • Not all my work is wrong, I can save the good parts.
  • I can do this if I focus.
  • Other people are probably struggling too, we can all do this if we try.
  • Maybe other people want to ask a question but are too shy. If I ask I may be helping everyone.

This almost brought a tear to my eye as it is exactly what we should be teaching kids. We should teach them how to handle the negative thoughts that all of us have so that they can grow up to fulfil their potential. The older I get the more I think that this sort of stuff is far more important than maths or physics as if we can master our “dark side” then the learning of maths or whatever can become much easier.

After school I walked up to the High Line. This is an old raised railway running north from Gansevoort Street where north along the west side of New York. It is no longer used and rather than tear it down it has been turned int a raised park with wild grass and flowers – apparently.

Viewing Station by Richard Galpin

Viewing Station by Richard Galpin

As the park is raised high in the air it is possible to walk around and see over the water to the west and the city to the east. The paving stones and benches have all been designed in the style of old railroad sleepers. This was a brilliant idea and I loved it.

An artwork by Richard Galpin named Viewing Station has been erected on the High Line. This is fairly simple but very effective and consists of a metal screen with shapes but out revealing different colours of the cityscape beyond. When viewed from a small viewing point the result is an piece of abstract art.

After walking back to Tribeca I felt a thirst come upon me and hunted around for a bar. If I have one criticism of New York it is that eating and drinking establishments are very tightly delimited. This is to say that one cannot easily pop ones head in and see if it is the place for you. Instead you enter and are greeted and if you are not careful are seated having had a menu thrust into your hands and a glass of ice water delivered. Many bars in Tribeca appeared quite up market and though one woman assured me she had beer, it all seemed to much hassle. Eventually I spied The Patriot on Chambers Street and entered. Obviously this was a bar for Americans. Dark inside, the ceiling was hung with various paraphernalia such as a surfing crocodile and miscellaneous women’s braziers. Presumably to present the idea that the nights in this place were wild and raunchy though the rag tag bunch of T-Shirted men belied this image.

However the semi naked young woman behind the bar was pleasant and served me an excellent Steller Artois. This is a positive change in America. In the past most available lagers have been pretty bland but Stellar appear to have broken through even to bars like The Patriot. Somehow I got the feeling that the becaped cliental of the Patriot would choke if they realised that they were drinking French lager.

Bar-B-Qued Businessmen

New Yorkers

New Yorkers

Today I wandered around the financial district of Manhattan. The place is very up beat and alive (he said as if revealing some hidden truth that had previously gone unnoticed). I think what I like about New York is the street life or “Leben auf der Straße” as they say in Germany. New Yorkers sem keen on uniforms; the businessman has a crisp clean shirt and tie the delivery guy a white apron, the postman a blue hat and a trolley, the construction worker a vest, hat and a plethora of contraptions dangling from his body. Consequently it is easy to identify what’s going on.

At the World Trade Centre a new building is finally going up and the Americans are taking to the task with zeal. One thing that impressed me was that I photographed all the WTC in front of the police and nobody bothered me. This stands in stark contrast to Great Britain’s paranoid policy on public photography where they harass amateur photographers with bollocks about it being illegal.

There appears to be a lot of yellow about in NYC these days. The taxis of course but also the trucks. I noticed an “organic dry cleaners” down near Battery Park, something I have not come across before.

Barby

Barby

Also near battery park hoards of immaculate dressed businessmen and women ate their lunch, many of them queuing for bar-b-que. This is another thing that almost dumfounds me. How can New York business people remain so sharply dressed in the heat and humidity while eating bar-b-que.

To be honest I was told to stop taking photographs by a security guard when shooting directly into the vast good entrance. I approached the guy and told him that I didn’t think he had the authority to tell me to stop taking pictures and he said, OK, and that his supervisor had told him to tell me to stop.

I should investigate what the rules are in the U.S.

Barba-Q'ed businessmen

Barba-Q'ed businessmen