Thursday, 30 April 2015

My Back Garden (The Photo Gallery)

It's a while since I've showcased my (very amateur) photography skills by linking to Tara's Photo Gallery, but her prompt this week - My Back Garden -- has nudged me into taking my new phone outside and giving it a go. All the below were shot with iPhone 6 (as the ad campaign goes) - and I think it did an OK job.

We're at an interesting stage with the garden; having moved in late last summer, we don't really know what's in there, and Spring has served up some pretty surprises. We've had crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops and a whole host of bulbs appear in unexpected places; recently I've spotted some bluebells, and there's a sprig of wisteria growing over our fence from next door that's about to bud. (We also have some over our front door; my dream has long been to have a purple shimmering curtain on the front of my house, and maybe one day this will be a reality).

I love the stories gardens tells about the previous owners of houses; there are an incredible number of overgrown roses, and according to a neighbour, the owner before last was obsessed with roses. However, like almost everything in the garden, they've been left to grow rampantly out of control in the intervening years. There's also an insane amount of holly (and ivy) -- I like holly, but we've had to be rather ruthless in cutting back.

The Doctor is more green-fingered than I am, but I love gardens, and can quite imagine myself getting more into it as the years go by; I've even found myself listening to Gardeners' Question Time on the radio recently and not immediately switching over to something less middle aged. I'm also going to the Chelsea Flower Show next month for the first time ever; and I couldn't be more excited if I'd scored a ticket to the Baftas.

Here's a quick tour then:

I love forget- me-nots. I know they're a weed - but they're just so pretty.

The wisteria is about to bud.

No idea what this is - but I like the colour

A couple of bluebells snuck in somehow

We have an insane amount of holly in our garden

Sunday, 26 April 2015

How to upgrade your iPhone (if you're clueless)

1. Eke out the usefulness of your iPhone 4, bought almost five years ago in the US, until emails take about ten minutes to load, apps randomly crash on you and the battery mysteriously dies several times, requiring emergency resuscitation on several occasions.

2. When you can hold out no longer, make trip to the Apple Store, having carefully backed up your phone and taken all the photos off).

3. Get to Apple Store, having parked 20 minutes walk away. Don't bother with any browsing. You're not here to have fun (unlike the kids who are straight on the iPads). Home in straight on the one you want ( a "normal" iPhone 6) and commander an Apple geek to help you buy it.

4. Go to get out your old phone, to find it's still in the car. You were using Google Maps on the way and left it sitting in the front seat.

5. Worry that you won't be able to swap all your information onto the new phone. Husband, and Apple geek, assure you this is not a problem.

6. Get to the swapping stage, where another Apple geek informs you that actually, you do need the phone, as they need to send you a text.

7. Husband is dispatched back to the car, while you make small talk with Apple geek and try to sound knowledgable about iPhones. Nod as if you understand everything he is saying.

8. Husband is back, looking sweaty, with phone, and the swap is successful. However, Husband advises you not to buy iPhone case from Apple Store as it is "a rip off". Compared to price of iPhone, cost of case seems trifling but you concur.

9. Tramp around shopping mall looking for a nice iPhone 6 case. Fail to find one; cases are either all for other sizes of iPhone, or they feature One Direction.

10. Go to dodgy looking, "off the back of a lorry" mobile shop in the nearby high street. Choose cheap, serviceable case, but are persuaded to spent ten pounds on a clear plastic cover for the screen. Total cost is almost as much as Apple case. Plastic cover turns out to be impossible to use without smearing.

11. Finally use new phone. Feel actually astounded at what apps are like five years on - and what's more, now, Google Maps doesn't show the traffic jam on the wrong side of the road. You are like a new woman. Who knew?

Monday, 13 April 2015

A tourist's eye view of London

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Last week, we were tourists in our own city.

Our German friends from Long Island days came to stay, and as, they had barely visited London before, I decided to take them on a really Grand Tour. They'd sent me a list of things they wanted to see which included: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard, Big Ben, Hamleys, the London Eye, Carnaby Street and (bizarrely I thought) Queen's Park.

Well, we managed to see all of these in three busy days (except Queen's Park, which it turns out my friend had read about on a blog. We decided our local Crystal Palace Park was just as good if not better). Amazingly, the best weather of the year descended as if from nowhere and we had three days of brilliant, warm sunshine that made it feel like summer.

On the first day, we started at Buckingham Palace. I'd never seen the Changing of the Guard, and to be honest, the huge numbers of tourists with selfie sticks made this rather difficult to see, but see it we did and even the children, who had been grumbling at the wait for the action to begin, were enthralled with the parade. The best bit? The band played the Star Wars theme. Perfect for three small boys.

Walking down to Westminster
After this we picnicked on hot dogs in St James's Park (luckily for us we had three little New Yorkers in tow) and wandered down to Westminster Abbey, where we walked round the cloisters for free (go in the back way and you can do this) and peered through an archway at the school where The Doctor was educated.

Then, we caught a Thames Clipper from Embankment Pier to Tower Bridge - again, something I've never done, and well worth the albeit short trip. You do get a different perspective on London from the river. At the Tower, we wandered around the outside, avoiding the queues for the Crown Jewels but taking in the forbidding stone walls and the Traitor's Gate while imagining the memories that grim building must hold.

Sunset at the Oxo Tower Brasserie
Day 2 started with a trip to see the stone dinosaurs in our beloved local park, then a bus ride all the way into the West End - more familiar territory for me. We got off in Regent Street and did a quick tour of Hamley's, the boys all acquiring new Hexbugs which kept them happy for hours afterwards. Then it was on to Carnaby Street for a coffee, before a stroll through Soho and Chinatown to Covent Garden where we watched a street performer sitting on the sun-warmed cobblestones of the piazza. From there we walked to the Oxo Tower Brasserie where we'd booked a table for dinner. It being so warm, we were seated outside on the balcony and caught the most incredible London sunset.

View from the Emirates cable car
Day 3 started with rain but then cleared up and was fine once again for our ride on the Emirates Airline cable car, from Royal Victoria Docks to Greenwich Peninsula. This again was a first for me and is really worthwhile, affording great views over London and the river. From there it was on to Greenwich Park and the National Maritime Museum. The boys played in the kids' section while we learned about Nelson and Trafalgar, then it was up the hill to the Royal Observatory, for more fabulous views from a different angle, and a peek at the Greenwich Meridian line.

All in all I think our friends loved London; what I noticed was they constantly remarked on how green it is, how full of parks and trees, and on the contrast between the old and new -- for example the Tower of London juxtaposed to the Shard and the other modern skyscrapers of the City. Interestingly, they also felt that in comparison to New York, which can feel a little crumbling at times, our infrastructure and skyline seemed a lot more modern and up to date. Sometimes you have to step outside your own shoes to make such observations.

Seeing it through their eyes brought home to me that we do truly live in one of the world's great cities. Other places may sound exotic, but to a foreigner, London is an incredible place, rich in history, beauty, culture, colour and interest. Now, if only we could order that sunshine for 52 weeks a year.....