Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

My first visit to Oslo was in 2006. That time, it was for work and we were some distance away from town. I remember the flight in gave a dramatic impression, and I remember sitting in the conference centre, looking over the hill side, breathing in the thick scent of pine watching the sun slowing crawl toward the horizon at about 11pm. I only got into town the once, on the last night, and saw little of it which I was disappointed about. My second visit to Norway was to Trondheim and I enjoyed that as well.

So I was looking forward to visiting Oslo again, for a few days, doing the tourist thing. But I am afraid that I have been disappointed again; this city has not really grabbed me. The architecture is impressive at points, but there is a random, thrown-together quality about the city overall; nothing to rival the magnificence that is Grainger Town in Newcastle. And some of the signature buildings are, again, just okay; the Opera House has a roof you can walk up, but that seems to be it. The night time is subdued to say the least, and the food is okay at best. The only stand out feature seems to be an extra-ordinary number of sculptures — mostly bronzes, and often not famous people. Lots of nudes in heroic poses; the number involving seals is also distinctly above the average.

Of the two best things I have seen are, first the Sculpture Park. Very classically laid out garden, but with some really very good sculpture, full of character and life. And seals. And second, the folk museum, which shows Norweigian life and buildings at different stages of history. I have to admit, though, that I was at a loss to see the difference, because over the last 4-500 years, this seems to basically have involved making robust, timber buildings on stilts. While the museum is good, I think, having less buildings, but better explained would improve it. When you get down to it, one wooden farmhouse looks very like another, especially when you can see it only from the outside.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though has been the accessibility for pushchairs. In Oslo, this is never an afterthought; they just have not thought about it at all. The tram doors slam on you if you take too long, which may happen if, say, you are struggling to get a heavy, unwieldy, pram-shaped object through a narrow door. My visit to the Opera House was limited to walking around the lobby, as walking up a sloping roof, with nothing but “slippery when wet” signs to break a clear run to the fjord is not my idea of fun. My visit to the National Gallery involved 20 steps to get in, to discover that the pushchairs are banned in the exhibition area; still, hey, you can visit the shop. Looking through the door of the National Museum (only 10 stairs up) and I could see a line of buggies next to the security guard. I didn’t even bother.

This blog has been alive now since Feb 2006. It started with a relatively uneven tone, as many blogs do, moving between the personal and the professional, the and the, erm, less trivial; the first posts were a mildly witty observation about an airport, a review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and a discussion on semantic enrichment of literature which seems as true then as now.

I think that it has now reached a more even state — it’s generally moving in a more professional blog while, perhaps ironically, my profession has moved more toward blogging. It contains very little of my personal life for reasons explained earlier.

I would like to beg the indulgence of my readers, both of whom know this anyway, by using my blog to announce the birth of our son, Sean Maioli Lord on 7th Dec 2010. He was 3.42 kg at birth

That’s it. I have no intention of this becoming a mawkish, baby-related blog. I do have one post that I may or may not write on the biology of babies. Please feel to stop me if it goes on too much.

Elba was a lot of fun; it’s very biased toward beaches, but there are plenty of these, they are easy to get to and, generally, free. For my money, the best of these ones that we went to were Aquavivata (or something like that) and Sansone (next to each other — I swam to the latter) and Capo Bianco. Both of these are withing spitting distance of Portoferraio. which is the biggest town. It turns out that Capo Bianco is part of a marine reserve, which explains, with no fishing; this probably explains why the place was so rich with life that otherwise would have ended up on pasta. But, with a pebble beach, a slow sloping seabed still only 1 or 2m in depth some 50m from shore and with many rocks, and a headland it’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling.

As well as Elba, I got to Pianosa. This is an ex-penal colony, with no permanent residents. It’s a strange place, full of mystery and excellent snorkelling. It’s also full of history, occuring in two of my favorite books; first, Posthumous Agrippa was exiled and later killed here, as is told in I, Claudius. The exact site isn’t known, but the seem to have found his swimming pool. And, secondly, Pianosa is the setting for Catch-22, although it in reality, it’s too small to have contained the events; I didn’t manage to find out whether it was occupied during the war, but it didn’t have a airbase. The whole place is a marine reserve, and the snorkelling was the only place which beat Capo Bianco. Beautiful though Pianosa is, there is a fly in the ointment, which is the Zecce on the island; the place is infested with ticks, which means that you have a reasonable chance of coming home with a blood-sucking monstrosity attacked to any accessible capillary.

After Elba, I’ve come to Lake Garda. All the Italians are complaining that it’s caldissimo; of course, back in Newcastle, they all complain it’s not hot enough. Never satisfied with the weather; just like the British.

The last holiday that I went on produced a long stream of blog posts; this one, I suspect will result in only one or two, which reflects the different character of places. India is a place of conflicts, confusion and excitement; Elba, on the other hand, is a holiday resort, universal beautiful, relaxed; in short, wonderful for swimming, sitting on the beach and general relaxation, but not so wonderful for writing about on a blog.

I took the train from Rome to Piombino Maritima; as with other times, the Italian trains beat the British equivalent easily. While, in some ways, they are not quite as nice inside, they are plentiful, ontime and cheap; the 15 Euro I paid for a three hour journey would hardly get me past the platform in Britain. Piombino itself, appears to be a scenic chemical factory, while Piombino Martima is a working ferry terminus, which says it all.

Elba itself is much, much prettier; a small island, with a large mountain range in the middle. A lesser nation would have built towns around the edge, but, as this is Italy, there are also improbable towns cemented onto impossible slopes, with hair-pin roads snaking inbetween. At this time of the year, though, the focus is on the beaches; I’d love to attempt the 1000m walk to the highest peak, but in this climate, the water, sun-tan cream, and sun umbrella would just weigh me down too much. I think coming back in April for hills, plants and geology would be excellent, though.

Speaking of the beaches, well, there are many. Many of these are hopelessly over-crowded, but some are a little quieter, without motor boats. The swimming is, on the whole, excellent; I bought some flippers which I’m having great fun with; I can dive deeper and stay down far longer, whizzing along through the shoals of fish.

Marciana Marina, where we are staying, is lovely, with a long promenade, several sheltered harbour beachs, and a pebble beach at the end, open to the sea. There is a jazz festival on in the main square; I get the impression they have pretty regular events there, but we’ve lucked out here. The standard has been very high, covering big band, modern trios and a jazz harpist. I’ve enjoyed it all; the crooner with the big band sang standards with a Italian accent, which was strange, but good.

In the relaxation of a beach holiday, I’ve been thinking daft ideas, which I may write about later. One was language teaching related — it’s got a crazy acronym which is Progressive Inculcation of Language by Listening to Stories (PILLS). The second was a design for inflatible flippers, which would work in the water but would also be good for walking outside. And, finally, an idea for domesticated bats as a method for insect control.

Maybe, I’ll write about them. Or, maybe not.

For the third year in a row, I managed to the Northern Rock cyclone this weekend. It was a lovely occasion as before; the weather was cool in the morning with a brisk wind, but it warmed up a little and the wind dropped by the end of the day. The numbers have gone up slightly and it was good to see so many cyclists around.

Compared to last years’ ride I was way down. I just cleared 5:30 in the saddle, or 6 hours elapsed, which is about 1 hour slower (although the route is, apparently, 2 miles longer than last year). Not unexpected, given the absence of training; this is my longest ride of the year, 40 miles being the longest otherwise. Having moved house early in the year, and with an F1 in the works, I just haven’t found the time.

This really is a great event; at the moment, it’s big enough to be an event, but small enough to still feel personal. I hope that it will get bigger, although the roads mean that it could never rival the GNR, because this sort of mass participation event will help to bring cycling up the agenda. However, having done the GNR, I know that this would almost certainly lessen the pleasure of it.

Managed to see “On What a Lovely War” on Friday, at the northern stage. I’ve not see it before although I’ve been aware of the play since they did it while I was at school. I guess that being based on World War I, the show starts from an emotional strong point, but the mix of light-hearted and optimistic songs, set against the deaths of millions works as well as it ever did; this version of it was magnificent, with the instrumentation on stage, as props, actors moving backward and forward between playing, singing and acting. Perhaps the most moving section was the 1914 football match in no mans’ land, ironic as it has no music over it.

The whole play is encapsulated, though, by its version of “Keep the Home Fires Burning” — the original is a light and jaunty number, although with a melancholy for home. Here, it is performed by a lone nurse, lending it a poignancy that is in the song, but which is hidden in most versions; the combination of the simple lyric and delicate melody is heart-breaking.

I knew that it was an Ivor Novello song; I didn’t know that it was his first big hit and defined his career to the extent that his grave reads “Ivor Novello 6th March 1951 Till you are home once more“. Nor did I know that this epitaph are the words of another — Lena Guilbert Ford, an American poet who wrote the lyrics, but has otherwise moved through history leaving only this song and a forlorn edit page to show her passing. A little more digging got me to an archive from New York Times:

London, March 12 — Two bombs were dropped together on the house of Mrs. Lena Guilbert Ford, the American poet who was killed in the air raid last week, and on the adjoining dwelling, an army expert testified at the inquest today. The bombs exploded simultaneously.

The Coroner’s jury found the death of Mrs. Ford, best known as author of the war song, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” and that of her son, Walter was due to “suffocation from the collapse of a house caused by the explosion of bombs from a hostile aircraft”.

— New York Times (1918)

The rest of the article is a distressing account of the inquest, which tried to determine whether the mother outlived the son which had implications for inheritance.

She made little more impact on history because she was in it for only a short time more, dying in the declining years of World War I, a civilian casualty of a new form of warfare. One more tragedy among 20 million.