Week 39

A quiet week, punctuated only by essential “winter wellbeing admin”: flu jab; purchase of a rug to stop the living room feeling so chilly; renewal of magazine subscriptions.

I cancelled a subscription to a monthly cheese club on the grounds that I could buy all the “mystery” cheeses I’d received (the same suppliers, identical packs), from Waitrose for less money and a guarantee that I would actually want any that I bought. And I wouldn’t have to wait at home for the postman to bring me a weird-smelling parcel.

I had planned to see “Labour of Love” starring Martin Freeman, but the performance I was booked for was cancelled. Instead, I caught up with some reading.

2017 100 – book reading challenge update

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Four books this week: two crime books, a science fiction and the newest from the Hogarth reimagined Shakespeare series.

The Seagull is Ann Cleeves’s newest Vera Stanhope book. I have to admit to only having seen the TV incarnation of Vera, and I like that version of her very much. The book version is harder, rougher around the edges, less well dressed, more of a drinker. I found her less engaging than the TV character, but I still enjoyed the book. It seems odd to start with the last in a series, but I assumed (correctly) that this would be a story that had not yet been adapted. It was interesting to see that the literary Vera, even in book 8, was still a DI and still had her core team of Joe and Holly around her. This makes me hopeful that the other books will be different enough from the TV series to make them enjoyable reading. Next on my Vera list will be volume 1.

The second crime book is no 5.7 (!) in the Rivers of London series. They are crime stories, and Peter Grant is a detective (and another of my favourites), but there is so much magical realism in these books that the crime could take second place. This is a novella set between two other books in the series, and is great fun.

New Boy is an interesting retelling of Othello. I am enjoying this series, and have read each one as it has been published. This one is set in an elementary school in Washington DC, and is full of the petty jealousies of children and teachers that come to a head on one school day. It could have been longer and more nuanced. I give this three stars.

Finally, into outer space. I have really liked Dave Hutchinson’s Fractured Europe series, and decided to give this a try even though I have not really been a “hard SF” fan for a long time. Spaceships and aliens generally leave me a bit cold nowadays, but I loved this. No spoilers here, apart from saying spaceships figure large!

These four books bring my total up to 78 so far this year. 22 to go before the end of the year. I think I’ll make it.

 

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Week 38

The autumn equinox this week heralded the start of probably my favourite season. Long-sleeved dresses, thick tights, woolly jumpers and warming food. I look forward to Harvest festivals, Halloween and bonfire night, and a new batch of cookery books.

Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe

Tristan Bernard: Boudica 

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The Globe is a much better experience when the weather is cooler. And it pays to invest in a seat in the gallery, a seat cushion, and a backrest. Comfortably ensconced, I thoroughly enjoyed this play. Gina McKee is a wonderful actor, of course, and the rest of the cast were brilliant, too. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the production was well worth seeing. The subject matter is well-known, and this was a straightforward telling of the story, but with a main theme being the differing aftermaths of the two daughters’ experience at the hands of the Romans.  It was gritty at times, and funny at times -I liked the dry humour of the Roman sentries and the brilliant choice of “London Calling” for the musical interlude. I recommend this.

 

Reading

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Three titles this week, bringing my progress towards my 100-books-in-2017 reading challenge to 75. The first up is one of Georges Simenon’s Maigret books, in audio CD format. I have to admit that I won this, rather than bought it.  Maigret is one of those detectives that everyone knows about. In my case, from very old TV programmes that I wasn’t that struck on. I do like the new Rowan Atkinson Maigret, and I hadn’t read any of the books until after seeing this version. I find the books themselves quite ordinary, and there are so many (76) of them. As with so many works that are translated to English, the story loses something in the translation, and I am never sure that I am hearing the author’s authentic voice. However, I found the audio recording of this story more enjoyable than I think I would have found the reading.

The second book is another crime novel, set in Reykjavik, and by one of my favourite authors, Arnaldur Indridason, who is one of a few authors who doesn’t seem to suffer in translation.  This is the first in a new series that does not feature dour detective Erlendur. I think I am going to like the new guys.

Finally, my first new cookbook for a while.  It does exactly as it says on the cover, and I have the six-hour lamb in the oven as I write this.

Week 33

An interesting mix of things this week.

Opera

Arcola Theatre: Grimeborne Festival

Kurt Schwitters/Lewis Coenen-Rowe: Collision

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This is described as part sci-fi, part Weimar-decadence, and is a short ( hour and a half straight through) opera, set in prewar Berlin, with an end-of-the-world plot involving a large green globe on a collision course with earth. I have to say, there wasn’t much sci-fi to be had, and perplexingly, all the lighting effects were blue and red. So, no sign of a green globe,  but there was a bit of Cabaret-style decadence. Casting a high soprano as the (male) chief of police was odd, especially as the soprano was scantily clad in a thankfully well-engineered red brassiere. The other voices were strong, apart from the inevitable weak tenor. The music was performed by a live band, and was very good. The set design and costumes looked very amateurish, but this was possibly deliberate. Overall, this was an enjoyable performance, well up to fringe standards

 

Tod Machover: VALIS

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This is another short, sci-fi opera, based on the VALIS novels by Philip K Dick, and available to download free.

I really liked this, even if I didn’t fully understand it. You can make your own judgement-  read more and listen to it here

 

Literature

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On August 15th, 1947, India was partitioned and Pakistan was born. To commemorate this, the BBC broadcast a dramatised adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I binge-listened to all seven episodes on August 15th 2017.

I had read the novel, quite a few years ago, and liked it. I liked this version too.

SUMMER reading challenge

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The challenge comes to a successful early conclusion with R for Runcie. This is the fourth Sidney Chambers book, and one in which the female characters have become particularly grating. I go on reading these in the hope that something dire will happen to Amanda, Helena or the irritating Hildegard.

Week 27

This week was designated as “Hamlet Week“. Three possible performances – two of which I actually had tickets for. Then fate intervened, of course.

IMG_0260First up was Changeling Theatre and their outdoor offering. Great reviews, but, on the day I had booked, coinciding with the beginnings of a head cold, and, worse than that, FLYING ANT DAY. Sitting with a headache in a field of flying ants is probably one of my worst nightmares. I stayed home and re-read Ian McEwen’s “Nutshell”.

Next up was the new opera at Glyndebourne. Obviously too far away, but being broadcast live to cinemas. Irritatingly, I had already booked broadcast night to see another version of Hamlet, so couldn’t take advantage of the air-conditioning and cheap comfy seats in my local Picturehouse. I hope there will be an “Encore” screening at some point in the future.

The Hamlet I was most looking forward to was the Andrew Scott portrayal at the Harold Pinter theatre. Sadly, my head cold had developed by then into a full-on coughing and spluttering chest-based spectacular. I sadly returned my ticket.

 

I ended up on my sofa on Friday evening watching the most over-the-top filmed version anyone IMG_0262could possibly imagine. There are many reviews of this in the world, so I’m not going to add to them, except to say that I am certain that casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius must have been a Kenneth Branagh joke. (Actually, this Claudius was one of the best I have ever seen, and made the film much better than it might have been.) I could have done without Robin Williams, but Charlton Heston was wonderful.

Books

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First up, the afore-mentioned Nutshell, one of the Hogarth re-imaginings of Shakespeare. No prizes for guessing what this one is.

 

Other reading this week included two with “strange” female protagonists. Both are unreliable as narrators for various reasons which don’t become clear until the ends of their stories. Both well worth a read.

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Finally, I have set myself a challenge for the rest of the summer, which, for me, ends on August Bank Holiday. Here are my six SUMMER books, chosen by author surname initial.

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The aim is to read all these between now and August Bank Holiday (which marks the end of summer for me).

S: Never Mind (Edward St Aubyn)
U: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Dubravka Ugrešić)
M: Sashenka (Simon Sebag Montefiore)
M: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra)
E: The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
R: Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (James Runcie)

 

Week 25

Theatre

Brockley Jack Studio

Edgar Allan Poe double bill

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It is so rare to get “goth” theatre.     I tried very hard to like this, but sadly, I didn’t. The first half was the Masque of the Red Death, a famously scary story that didn’t really work for me in this setting. Perhaps it was a bad night, but I’m afraid I didn’t wait around for the Fall of the House of Usher, scheduled for the hour after the interval.

 

Peacock Theatre

Taj Express

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This was a lot of fun. The Merchant family seem to be Bollywood legends; Vaibhavi and Shruti choreographed the production, with Salim and Sulaiman writing the music that linked the Bollywood standards. The dancing was good to my untutored eye, the costumes were spectacular, and the largely Indian family audience seemed to love it, despite (or perhaps because of) its adherence to Bollywood tropes. This was my first Asian dance  experience, and I would certainly go again.

Books

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Only one this week, but a good one. This is the second book about Yashim the eunuch. An interesting case story, with a brilliant sense of place. Reading this, you can hear and smell Istanbul, and almost taste the food Yashim loves to cook while he is pondering his cases.

This brings my reading challenge total up to 54. Still on target, but only just…

Week 23

Theatre

Duke of York’s Theatre

Lee Hall: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

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I’m not an enormous lover of musicals, but this was new, and with the promise of music by ELO, could have been very exciting. Sadly, the dialogue was so profanity-heavy that I couldn’t really engage with it fully. The acting was good, the all-female cast and band did their job well, but it was sad to see all the characters were stereotypical “convent slags”. I’m afraid I couldn’t like this show.

Museums

The British Museum

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

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The Hokusai exhibition was lovely. Many iterations of Fuji-San, of course, but so much more. There were a large number of Hokusai’s notebooks, and it was interesting to see the background work. I particularly liked the two large panels which were apparently the interior ceilings of carriages, one of which was reproduced on the mandatory silk scarf (which I duly bought). Once again, I was surprised that the main draw for me was so small. The famous Great Wave was tiny – hardly bigger than A4, but very beautiful.

Events

Senate House, UCL: 1984 Live

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This was a one-off all-day immersive event. A whole host of celebrity readers taking a chapter (ish) each. There was a bit of acting, some clever use of projection and lighting, and the slightly disturbing presence of “party” members dotted around. The star was the Senate House building itself – Orwell’s inspiration for the Ministry of Truth. I think my photograph has captured its air of menace very well.

Books

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This week’s reading was varied – a “light crime”, a psychological study of a possible criminal, and a prize-winning dystopia.

The Power is an interesting take on the differences/similarities between men and women. This might have disturbed me more if I had been a male reader, I think. It won the Baileys Prize, and while I am not sure it is great literature, it was an enjoyable read.

McGlue was a more difficult read, more “literary”, and less satisfying in its lack of firm conclusion. I don’t usually like first-person narration, but I liked this short novel very much, and will seek out more by this author.

The second Grantchester book was more interesting than the first. It moved away from the known (via TV episodes), seeing Sidney arrested in East Berlin, and finally resolving his long-term love interest (no spoilers for the TV show here).

Audio

Bob Dylan: Nobel Lecture

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Bob Dylan finally got round to making his Nobel-winner’s speech. You can listen to it here , but be prepared for long descriptions of Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey. I’m not sure he is taking the prize seriously.

Public Art

Maggi Hambling: A Conversation With Oscar Wilde

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I’m not sure how I feel about this piece. The idea is clever – a bench whereon a conversation could take place, but it is a little too coffin-like for my taste, and Oscar’s bust is ugly, ugly, ugly. I have never seen anyone actually sitting on this, and I am afraid I didn’t sit down either.

Pop Culture

 (And a bit of Maths)

Dandelion’s retirement

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Crayola, the crayon manufacturer, has a new blue crayon coming online. It is a new pigment and needs a new name (the suggestion box has closed, and I really hope we don’t get Bluey McBlueface). Because of the new crayon, one of the old colours has to be retired, in order to keep the number of active colours at 120. Why 120? Well, the boxes hold multiples of 8 crayons…

Anyway, the crayon to be retired is Dandelion, a rather nice shade of yellow. I checked my own box of 24, and there it is. We used to call dandelions “wet-the-beds” when I was a child, and I am delighted that the French obviously still do.

Week 19

Another “exhibitions” week.

The Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life

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This was surprisingly comprehensive for a free exhibition. The exhibits spanned the whole of human history, from lightning to modern power generation, and included art as well as artefacts. “Pure” science was well-represented, and Galvani loomed large. The film of a frog in zero gravity was oddly sad, but it was an interesting inclusion. The exhibition itself was well laid out, following a timeline from ancient to modern. Well worth seeing, even if you are not science-minded.

The British Library

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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This is the second Russian-revolution-themed exhibition I have visited in this centenary year, and despite it having no Kandinskys for me to drool over, it was by far the better experience. Obviously, as a library exhibition, the main focus was on text and illustration, but there was enough archive footage, flags and realia to make this really interesting and worth the admission fee. The layout was exemplary. It was not possible to miss anything, there was ample seating for those who, like me, need a rest now and then, and the exhibits were very well chosen. My only gripe is  the prohibitive cost of even the paperback version of the catalogue.

Public art

Eduardo Paolozzi: Newton

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This is one of my favourite pieces of public art. I do like a big bronze, and this one has a sense of gravity (heh). It sits on a huge plinth outside the British Library, and I couldn’t walk past it without taking a snap.

J C F Rossi: The New St Pancras Church Caryatids

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Another favourite of mine. I was surprised to discover that they are made of terracotta, around a steel core. They look very much like ancient stone. The church faces on to the Euston Road, and is grade 1 listed, so these ladies will be around for a while.

Books

Only one book this week, and it was a disappointment.

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I like Inspector Montalbano a great deal, in both his TV incarnations, and I expected to like this. Sadly, the book does not read well. It feels like a caricature of the TV programme, rather than a “proper” crime novel in its own right. I know the books came first, so I imagine this must be a poor translation.  Catarella comes off particularly badly, and that is a shame. Even the food descriptions are poor. I don’t recommend this.

Week 18

An arty week this time. And some books, but no theatre.

Galleries

NOW Gallery: The Iris – Rebecca Louise Law

Menier Gallery: The UK Coloured Pencil Society – Annual open exhibition 2017

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The Iris was lovely. Obviously, by this (the last) week of the installation, the flowers had dried and yellowed, but somehow, I think this improved the work, making it into more than a floral arrangement. This is a fairly new gallery, and I shall be keeping my eye on what happens here.

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The pictures in the UK Coloured Pencil Society’s show were all very well executed, and clearly the prize-winners deserved their medals, but I prefer my art a little more abstract than any of the pictures on offer here. It was an interesting half-hour though, as there were several artists actually creating work while I was there.

Public Art

Today I spotted three works dotted around the Greenwich Peninsula.

Alex Chinneck: A Bullet from a Shooting Star

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The top picture shows this as it actually is today, taken from as close as I could get to the same position as the bottom one, when it was originally installed. I like it. Even though it is just an upside-down pylon.

Morag Myerscough: Colourblock Cranes

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You can just about make out the colours in my picture (top). I hadn’t realised that this was an art installation, as these are all actual working cranes, being used in the building of their surroundings. A clever idea.

Also in the top picture, you can see a granite “tramline”, which is supposed to be a longitude line. There are a number of these, separated by one-tenth of a second of longitude, interspersed with plaques showing various time-related facts. The picture below is one of my favourites.

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Yes, those are my boots. I have not been able to find out whose idea these lines and plaques were, but the granite tiling in the square was installed by Cundall (civil engineers).

Pop culture icons

The Alessi “Juicy Salif” juicer. A triumph of form over function. It spills juice everywhere, and you can’t use detergent on it or it turns itself, and every lemon thereafter, black.

But it is so beeyootiful!

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Books

Three this week, including the CCCP Cook Book that I mentioned a few weeks ago, and from which I plan to never cook anything. It does give an interesting picture of the bleak and awful kitchen landscape of The Soviet Union.

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The other two books are crime novels (well, one is a novella).

Legion is a clever concept. A schizophrenic whose hallucinations have hallucinations. I really enjoyed this, and I want more. Cold Storage, Alaska is a gentle story that reminded me a little of an old TV series called Northern Exposure. I enjoyed reading it, and again, would read more if it became a series.

Week 15

Theatre

Live broadcast from the National Theatre 

William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

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For the first time, I really appreciated that this was one of the Bard’s comedies. I laughed out loud at some scenes, and this is rare for me. The cast were excellent, of course. Viola and Orsino were the best I have ever seen, but the outstanding performance was Tamsin Grieg’s Malvolia, who left me in tears at her eventual fate. The set design was outstanding, making full use of the Olivier’s revolving stage, and I really wish I could have seen this in the actual theatre, rather than as a broadcast.

Festivals

The Tall Ships

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This was, in the main, an unpleasant experience. There were two venues, a long way apart. And the good stuff must have been at the other one on the day I went. There were crowds. (I know, it’s a festival, there are supposed to be crowds). Advance publicity had indicated that there would be music all day, on a number of stages. I chose the Woolwich Arsenal venue, on the grounds that it was likely to be less crowded than Maritime Greenwich. I could only find one small stage, where four sad old men sang sea shanties for ten minutes or so. The rest of the festival was basically a very long avenue of food and drink concessions, a few fairly average children’s entertainers, and an immense queue for the actual ships, which were hidden from general view by said immense queue. I decided that the best way to see any ships at all would be from the water, so I got on a Clipper boat and went the two stops to Greenwich. This was arguably the best part of the day. A seat on a catamaran, a good view of the ships on the river, a chance to take some photographs, and did I say a seat? Greenwich was awful, of course. Much more crowded, still no sign of the music, and I couldn’t wait to get on a bus to get far away.  I’m sure a lot of people really enjoyed the festival, but I wasn’t one of them.

Public art

Peter Burke: Assembly

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One good thing about going to the Tall Ships was the opportunity to see this installation of sixteen iron figures, at Woolwich Pier. They seem vaguely Gormley-ish, vaguely Paulozzi-ish, and I like them very much.

Books

Donna Leon: Earthly Remains

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I’m always happy when a new Donna Leon comes out, and especially happy when it’s a Brunetti book. I buy very few actual books now, I do most of my reading on a “device”, but this is a lovely exception, and sits well on the bookcase. No spoilers, as this is brand new, but it is Brunetti, it is set in the Laguna, and the case is resolved at the end. I enjoyed it.

Week 14

I was battling a bad cold this week, and nearly didn’t make the effort to get out of the house, but in the end, I’m glad I did.

Theatre

Yellow Earth Theatre at the Arcola

Christopher Marlowe: Tamburlaine 

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This was a very pared-back production. No set, apart from a white backdrop used to project text, and at one point a bizarre inclusion of negative film of a saxophonist accompanying Billie Holliday singing “My Baby”. I didn’t “get” that, and I haven’t seen any other reviews that have explained it at all. The cast were very good, swapping in and out of roles seamlessly, and the costuming and very few props were well-chosen. The lead female actor played a male tyrant believably and with great strength.  The play was accompanied throughout by excellent Taiko drumming, and I would have happily sat through this separately as a gig.

Exhibitions

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (Royal Academy)

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I won’t deny that my main reason for going to this was to see Kandinsky’s Blue Crest. 

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I was  surprised at how small it was – I had somehow expected it to be an epic piece. But never mind, it was still a highlight of the exhibition for me.

I found the rest of the extensive exhibition somewhat less than inspiring, although I did like the ceramics. This was another expensive gig where no photography was allowed, and only a very limited set of postcards were available. The catalogue was weighty, but too pricey for me. I bought a copy of the Soviet cook book, which will doubtless be reviewed here in the near future.

The life drawing room, Royal Academy Schools

Cathie Pilkington: Anatomy of a Doll

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This was a delightful bonus addition to my visit to the RA. I found out about it, by chance, five minutes before the tour started, and was able to join the group on a trek through the back alleys of the RA site where the public is only rarely allowed. The artwork was very interesting – Pilkington’s installation filled the entire life drawing studio, and incorporated a number of the RA’s own casts (a giant head of Homer and a flayed crucifix being the most “obvious”).  Crucifixes keep popping up on my travels just lately. Maybe it’s the proximity to Easter that is making me aware of them…

The installation is transferring to Brighton soon, but the RA casts and shelving will not travel with it, so it would be interesting to see how different it looks there. One obvious difference will be the student benches (as old as the Academy itself), which will be reproduced in pink plastic foam.

Public Art

St James’s Market Pavilion

The Paper Aviary

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This was quite lovely- a tiny installation of paper birds hidden away behind the Haymarket. I heard it before I saw it- the sound of birdsong isn’t often heard among the treeless streets in this part of London.

Picadilly Circus Underground Station

The Frank Pick memorial

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I really like this. The simplicity and appropriateness of it appeals to me. Pick first commissioned the London Transport “roundel”, and it is fitting that he is commemorated with one.

Dalson Junction

The Peace Mural

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This was painted in the 1980s, and has become quite important, apparently. I must admit that I wouldn’t want it painted on the side of my house, but it is better than a lot of other murals that I have seen. If you look carefully towards the top of the painting, you will see the words “Nuclear Free Zone”. I find that faintly amusing, if meaningless. Does it mean “no nuclear reactors in Dalston”? I can’t imagine where anyone would fit one in, anyway. Perhaps it means that if a nuclear war started, Dalson would be a magically safe place…

Books

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Two crime novels this week.

Wild Chamber is number 15 in the Bryant and May series, and it is as good as ever. I love Fowler’s London, love the Peculiar Crimes Unit and I am very fond of the creaky old Arthur Bryant.

Cockroaches is the second of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, set in Thailand, and as convoluted as ever. I like this flawed detective, even if he is a trope. Once again, the love interest doesn’t last out the book. I wonder if this will continue as a theme?