Sunday, August 30, 2009

snapshots, part II

Really old gravestones. The oldest don't have pretty cherubs or crosses, but gruesome looking skulls - fantastic!

Atmospheric light in cathedrals.

Things that I think are funny. Fusion of the old with the new.

War memorials. This is from the memorial to New Zealand soldiers who fought in the world wars. I love it.

Absurd militaristic rituals preserved - hooray!

Blackberries! Most of them much healthier specimens than these, available in public parks, and highly edible.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

snapshots, part I

Space for prayer
Stained glass meets Marc Chagall
Statues and flowers, Kew Gardens
London streets

Monday, August 17, 2009

simple pleasures

This is going to become a bit boring for you, but here it is: I am having a wonderful time in London.

It's been active and busy and I've seen stuff that I've wanted to see for a long time. This weekend it was the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre (from the outside but soon from the inside), and the National Portrait Gallery.

The funny thing is, as much as I've enjoyed those things, what I love most about London is more simple.

I love:

a) London's parks. Yesterday I spent time with a friend from university who lives here now, which in itself made me so happy, but we ended up collapsing onto the grass at St James' Park with exhausted feet and ice creams, and it was possibly the best part of the whole day, regardless of the historical wonders we had seen. And today I simply lay on the grass at the park down the road with a book, in the sun, looking up at the sky and the oak tree above me, feeling like I couldn't ask for anything more in the world. It helps that the weather is my idea of perfection.

b) Just coming across things that seem so novel and exciting to me, that I had no idea were around me. The main examples of this so far are all to do with Austen. It took me four days of studying at the British Library to discover that in the gallery just downstairs was Jane Austen's writing desk, one original volume of her juvenilia, and the original manuscript of Persuasion. On seeing this I just about burst into tears, and I couldn't explain why. The other thing was stumbling, in the National Portrait Gallery today, across the original miniature Cassandra Austen painted of her sister, and the only existing likeness that was taken of Jane Austen. Among the grandeur and the pomp of all these artists and subjects who were trying to impress with bigger or better paintings, this tiny, delicate little piece stood in stark contrast, and reminded me of why I love Austen so much. And the fact that it took me completely by surprise made it even better.

c) Travelling by train and by tube. Don't get me wrong, the tube can be thoroughly unpleasant, especially at rush hour. But it gives me a little satisfied thrill when I jump on and off them like a Londoner, figuring out all the links and changes and timetables. And travelling by overground train is generally less busy and also really rather scenic, if you go far out of central London. I sat on one for half an hour today just gazing out the window and feeling so relaxed.

I'm not saying that it hasn't been great, seeing all these historical and cultural landmarks. They have blown me away. But it's almost like you plan them too much, like you're so busy ticking things off your list that you don't get a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy them. It's not always the case, but it is the danger.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I don't really know where to begin. But I am currently sitting in the British Library, waiting for some newspapers to be delivered; I have free wi-fi access and no excuse not to blog about something. So, I am providing you with some snapshots of the last week, which feels like about four days.

Me and Karl Marx, at Highgate Cemetery.

The "Circle of Lebanon" at Highgate Cemetery. To anyone who is going to London - I would highly recommend this. Even if you're not a cemetery-junkie like me.

Tower Bridge. I spent a sunny Saturday in central London with the fantastic couple I'm staying with and their kids. I'd be walking along and wherever I turned my head there'd be some other famous, historical image that I've heard about all my life. We walked around the Tower of London but didn't go inside - that is for next weekend.

Buckingham Palace. Here, of course, I did enter. The Queen told me she liked my t-shirt. I reciprocated.

The flight here ... well, how to describe 30 hours of airports and cramped airplane seats? Thank goodness I had the foresight to purchase one of those inflatable neck-supporting cushions beforehand - on the final twelve-hour leg I actually managed to get some sleep, probably solely because of the cushion and the fact that I was absolutely shattered.

However, I will say that there were some cool elements of the flight. One of them was seeing a lightning storm from above as we flew over Brunei. I don't have words to describe how utterly awesome that was. The other was simply that I travelled to the opposite side of the globe, over soooo many countries. Following the flight path on our personal TV screens was thus pretty cool. My favourite part was flying over a tiny portion of Russia... which took hours.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

reasons to be happy

1) We had a Pride and Prejudice watching night at my flat a week or so ago. (Obviously - the five hour BBC version.) We created a facebook event and just invited anyone who might conceivably want to come - and crossed our fingers that all fifty people wouldn't show up! In the end, there were about fifteen or sixteen of us, and so we moved all the couches, beanbags, and so on into my room, the biggest in the house, and had a REALLY GOOD TIME. We actually had a few extremely keen males show up, which always makes me feel hopeful about the state of male-kind.

Organising party food also makes me happy, and arranging the carrot sticks and celery, as in the photo above, was one of the best bits.

2) On Saturday night I went to a screening of the 1925 Russian silent film, "Battleship Potemkin". One of THE classic movies, this was shown in the Christchurch Town Hall, with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra playing the music - which was in this case written by Shostakovich. SUCH a good concert. Sadly I can't watch Soviet films without thinking "propaganda! propaganda!" anymore - but I could certainly admire the forward-thinking, beautiful cinematography, and the music was just amazing.

3) In 48 hours EXACTLY, I will be leaving for Europe. Now that I've got all my preparation pretty much done, I'm not panicky anymore, but EXCITED. And scared in a good kind of way.