For the love of shoes, friends and birthdays

I’m not sure what it says about a fun day out when I come home with almost more photos of my feet than the day’s activities. They were clad in pretty shoes, but really, it wasn’t the main point of the day…

This was an accidental photo, but I rather like it.

Peering over the edge.

In hindsight, this was an unwise camera angle.

Check out those Nora Batty ankles. 
I love M&S opaques, but somehow I don’t have quite enough leg for them!

On reflection, the impetus was probably my love of reflections generally, combined with some rather pretty shoes, a lovely location (in central Birmingham – what a surprise!) and my general love of prancing. Oh, and the fact that it was a birthday day-out and the birthday girl has a tendency to keep people waiting. Not that we minded, it gave us an opportunity to prance, photograph and pose…

Ok, so I did some posing…
That’s the Ikon Gallery – well worth a visit.

The birthday girl did eventually emerge from the gallery, and we all had to pose.

All those photos with people in them? They were taken by the lovely Vicar Wendy (occupier of the country’s most luxurious curate residence). Like I said, I just took photos of shoes and water… 
[Oh, and in case you’re wondering – the shoes? A sale bargain discovered in Solihull’s Topshop last summer, so unlikely to be found anywhere these days.]

Snow is falling, all around me…

As snow falls from the London skies a mere five days after its last appearance, it feels like an apt moment to share some of this year’s snowy fun. (After all, there’s no fun like snow fun…)

In comparison to the last few years, this year’s snow has been rather pathetic – at least as far as central London’s concerned. However, this doesn’t appear to have disappointed my Norwegian flatmates. Since they arrived in August, they’ve been keenly anticipating the white stuff, which is odd, given as they must get plenty of it back home. But it seemed appropriate that when it finally did descend, we all happened to be at home. (Yes, Saturday night is rock and roll in the Frederick Street household!)

Their reactions were amusing in their own ways. I was busy making cupcakes, but once I realised it was settling, I sat at one of our (many) windows to watch the flakes and the people. Female Norwegian squealed in excitement that the snow was “just like Bridget Jones!” – her favourite film, on which she has based most of her time in the capital (apart from forays to Notting Hill). Initially, I was a little concerned that her reaction to the snow would involve her running into the street clad only in a vest, pants and a granny-cardigan…she didn’t. (Luckily. King’s Cross would not be a place to do that!)

You’ve got to admit, that could be a scene from a Richard Curtis movie.

Male Norwegian on the other hand was all about the art. Snow = fantastic photography opportunity, obviously. Off he disappeared for almost an hour, until I began to wonder just how interesting snow in the dark could be. It seemed I had cause to be concerned when he returned and posted the following Facebook status:
“It’s funny how angry drivers can get when you are laying face down in the snow in the middle of the street, trying to capture that special picture.”

When I questioned him, it emerged that there had been a leaf on the road…obviously that’s worth risking death for! 
Personally, I’d been looking forward to snow in my new neighbourhood. How better to view Dickens’ one-time street than under a Dickensian blanket of snow? Even better, a snowy Sunday morning required a walk through the prettiest part to get to church. I left early (miracle) to get some camera action in…
 Current street; street I’ll be living on from June; church; Queen’s Square

Even better, the snow didn’t scupper my weekly walk home (all 5 miles of it) from Vicar School on Monday. It’s a highlight of the week – a good workout that lasts almost exactly as long as the Wittertainment podcast – and I was worried that snow and ice would make it unfeasible. Even better, though there was little evidence of ice in South Ken, the fields of Hyde Park were still snow-covered, meaning that my wearing of the wellies of joy was finally justified. It was rather pretty…

A frozen Serpentine, beginning to crack.

Sunset over the snow…

However, as pretty as it was, I was relieved to see that most of the streets were quickly ice-free. I have absolutely no patience for prolonged periods of time where falling flat on my backside is a high probability. Thus, I’m hoping the current flurry settles, but only for as long as it takes me to take more photos, build a snowman and have a good snowball fight. Not much to ask, surely?

Friday Fun through a pinhole

Enough of the festive fun frivolity – it’s a new year and time for some serious fun…

Firstly, something that’s both beautiful and fascinatingly educational.

This is an image created after a pinhole camera was left in place opposite Toronto’s skyline for a year. Utterly amazing – here’s how it was done.
Something else that’s arty, but manages to involve a regular Friday Fun feature – children, is this project from Australia. It begins with a bright white room, and ends in a cacophony of colour…

Combining art with some TfL geekery (because it’s actually been a while since we had some of that on a Friday) and some awesome stats is a new exhibition that opens today at the London Transport Museum. [How up to date am I?? Is it somewhat ironic that this gem was given to me by someone in Brooklyn?] Here are some classic London Transport posters containing stats you never knew you needed to know:

Painting By Numbers is at the museum until March 18th and I think may finally prompt me to make a trip there. Did you know that once you’ve bought a ticket it’s valid for an entire year? That’s pretty awesome in my book – so who fancies a nerdy day out?

Finally, we’re now in 2012 and in London, that means just one thing: it’s Olympics year! I’m staying upbeat and excited about this fact, despite the fact that I still have zero Olympics tickets [but I do have a ticket to next week’s pre-Olympics gymnastics, which kind of helps]. In fact, let me take this moment to quote a recent Sue Perkins tweet that I empathised with:
Dear London 2012 Olympics: please don’t take my life savings on the promise of a ticket, then deny me that ticket, then EMAIL ME EVERYDAY”

Anyway, this means that there’s all sorts of Olympics fun around, and this week’s particular recommendation is the Guardian’s 50 Stunning Olympics Moments. Currently they’ve published eight of them and it was No.8 – Eric Liddell’s 1924 victory – that drew it to my attention. I defy you not to be inspired… Plus, it will equip you with some excellent Olympics factoids that you’ll be able to pluck out of thin air over the summer, enabling you to look terribly knowledgeable, which is always nice.

An evening with the stars and the moon

There’s nothing quite like a quintessentially geeky Saturday afternoon pursuit to make your weekend – like going to the Planetarium to watch a film about the Life of Stars. The Observatory at Greenwich is now home of London’s only Planetarium, which seems appropriate, what with its long history (and excellent vantage point) of looking into the sky…

It’s worth the trip, for a whole host of reasons. Firstly, at the moment it’s home to an exhibition of the 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011 competition – turns out you can enter with photos taken with very normal cameras and without the use of a telescope. Who knew? This was my personal favourite:

Then there was the film itself. The whole thing was infinitely relaxing – comfy, reclining seats; notices given by a fantastically calm and soothing voice; film narration by Patrick Stewart; pretty dancing stars…in fact, the only thing that could have enhanced the experience was a can of G&T (or, I’ve heard, some unorthodox substances). It was a good job it was relaxing, as a less calm person might have started to panic over the fact that our sun is likely to die in x billion billion years. [It was so relaxing that I took in very little of its precise facts.] It’s fortunate that this event is also:
(i) A very long way off.
(ii) When it does happen, it will be beautiful in a pink and purple way.

If you do go, choose the last showing of the day (at 3.15pm) as you’ll emerge just as the London skyline is disappearing into the sunset. This would be a beautiful sight most days, but on Saturday, it was as if the nerd friend who organised the trip had also managed to sort out a few natural phenomenon too…

1. An utterly fantastically mesmerising sunset.

2. A partial lunar eclipse. 
Ok, it won’t win me Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2012, but you get the idea.

3. A brilliant winter moon.
If only one of us had had a butterfly net with us, this could have been my entry…
All this excitement AND I got to travel home by boat. What a simply superb Saturday. 

Souviens-toi: Remember

A few weeks ago, while at a friend’s birthday party, a long conversation emerged on the subject of sites of grim historical significance and their place on tourist itineraries. (Yes, I know, it’s a bit niche – I blame the combination of my own historical nerdiness and a girl recently returned from a year studying in Berlin.) How do you ensure the correct balance of respect, the need for people to know about atrocities and ensuring that plenty of people visit them? Are gift shops appropriate? What about cafes and rest areas? To quote Alan Bennett’s History Boys, ‘…where do they eat their sandwiches?’

Little did I know that just a couple of weeks later I’d actually have a visit to one such site scheduled on my holiday itinerary. I’ve not actually been to many – aged 9 and 12 on trips to Munich, I was deemed too young to visit Dachau; aged 13 I made it to Anne Frank’s House (but got rushed round by a 10 year old sibling who found it dull – guess which of us got to make a return visit 4 years later?!); it was my sister’s year, not mine, that visited the Normandy beaches… For a history geek who took countless 20th century history courses at university, particularly on WW2, I’ve led a fairly sheltered life.

It turned out that not far from Limoges (the city nearest the building site) was a village that had been completely destroyed in 1944 by the SS. Oradour sur Glane was a community of 642 people, which on the 10th June 1944 was surrounded by a Waffen SS unit and destroyed – shops and houses were set on fire and the women and children sheltering in the church were massacred. The reason? The community was thought to have had strong links with the Resistance and the SS therefore decided to use them as an example to others. The atrocity took place just four days after D Day, with the Germans clearly aware of how important the Resistance would be during the Allies’ invasion.

After the war had ended, a campaign began to preserve the ruins of Oradour sur Glane as a memorial to the victims and a reminder to others of the senseless destruction war brings. In addition to the ruins is an exhibition centre (with a bookshop, not gift shop) that puts the events in the context of the war and the war in France particularly. The result is extremely moving, particular when visited on a blazing hot evening, when the sky is vivid blue and all seems idyllic – apart from the presence of burnt-out cars, semi-standing buildings, and signs that remind you of what took place nearly 70 years ago.

Rubble is particularly powerful – enough of an indication of what was, once upon a time, and what is no longer present. It can move you in a way that space cannot. If the buildings had been razed to the ground and the area left empty, I think few would have heard the story and learnt the lessons.

The day we visited was so gorgeous and perfect for photos that it felt almost like a film set from Band of Brothers. However, the atmosphere of silence and the hushed footsteps of people exploring (usually alone), made it dignified and real. It reminded me a lot of a similarly hot and sunny day when I’d explored the ruins of Lifta – a village outside Jerusalem whose Arab inhabitants were forced to leave in 1948. Oradour certainly merited a Flickr set separate to the general hilarity of the building site.

Witnessing, learning and remembering are important – in fact essential – if such things are not to be repeated. I learnt recently that it’s an required part of all German children’s education to visit a concentration camp; but why just Germans? I was privileged enough to meet with a Holocaust survivor when I was at school, but soon none will be left. But society, particularly in the years since WW2, has kept making the same mistakes so sadly, there are more survivors’ stories to hear – Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia…the list keeps getting longer.

One thing’s for sure, in the debate over the role such sites have as tourist destinations, some thought needs to be given to photography in such contexts. Capturing the mood of a place is fine, but presumably I’m not alone in thinking that group shots are inappropriate? In discussing the merits of visiting Oradour early in the trip, I heard a tale of someone being asked to move from the spot from which they were contemplating Ground Zero in New York so that a family could pose for a photo. Is that crass? There’s one thing such places being important sites to visit, but another if they’re simply another stop on a coach trip.