Saturday, September 21, 2019

101 Things #2 - Love Locks

Today our focus in 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is the ludicrous suggestion found on the website (and, no doubt, on many others) to

Leave A Love Lock Somewhere. 

This fashion was unknown to me until in 2013 on a river cruise through Paris we learned that tourists thought it clever to fasten a padlock to the wonderful old bridge Ponts des Arts as a symbol of their love for each other. How sweet, we thought (at first), two people make a physical sign of their love using a lock that will stand forever to show the world their feelings.  The trouble was that so many were following the trend that the bridge was being damaged by the weight of all that metal.

A few padlocks, I hear you scoff, how can those damage a massive iron bridge? Look at this picture and scoff no more.

Picture: CNN

 As we cruised beneath it our guide told us that the city authorities were going to take action and indeed, a couple of years later, they removed the locks. But the idea had long gone viral and bridges everywhere were and are being festooned with locks. Bloody good news for locksmiths, of course, but I want to declare my utter opposition to this practice.

There is the obvious problem that piling huge amounts of weight onto an old structure will cause damage. There is, in addition, the problem that the locks fill up all the spaces between railings and may blot out the view so that all you see is the locks themselves. There is the pollution of the rusting metal. There is the steady erosion of walkway space as the locks bulge out into the centre of the bridge. There is the sheer ugliness of all that stuff piled up. And if you are one who has left a lock that is then crowded out by hundreds of others - what was the point? Isn't your lover aware of your love? Why not give them something personal like a ring? Yes, you can walk away from the bridge with the beautiful (!) memory of that snap as the lock engaged and the clank as your lock hit the one next to it. So what? What about the beautiful sound of the opening of a bar of chocolate to be shared?

There is a wider point about the meaning of public spaces. Bridges, squares, long curving boulevards, intriguing side streets, riversides ... anywhere that is pleasurable to wander, especially in old cities, belongs to us all. As soon as someone appropriates a bit for themselves, as in sticking a lock to a railing, they are effectively claiming it for themselves and shutting everyone else out. Like graffiti artists, they give us something (almost invariably horrible and depressing to look at) and take away something far less so. And like graffiti artists they leave a mess for others to have to clear up. Incidentally, what happens to the keys? Are they thrown into the river? Does filling a river bed with rusting metal improve it?

I am suspicious about all fashions, especially those promulgated on social media. This one, superficially so charming and harmless, is one ruthlessly to avoid.

Friday, September 20, 2019

101 Things #1 - Extreme Origami

In this post in the series 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die, we consider the following suggestion found on the website

Fold 1000 Origami cranes and give them to someone special
 Firstly, by "crane" the author intends to signify a bird of the type popular in Japan. He does not expect you to make a working model of a piece of heavy machinery used for lifting objects during construction projects, fun though that undoubtedly would be.

Not this sort of crane This is what we are after

Having cleared that up, let us pause awhile and ponder the significance of making one thousand bits of folded paper with a sort of vaguely bird-like shape. Making one might be amusing, especially if one has a restless two year-old on hand to pass it on to. A couple - well, one could put them side by side and consider which is better. But a thousand? Surely you are having a laugh, Mr. Personal Excellence. Would anybody give a toss after picking up more than three?

And now let us turn to the "someone special", the recipient of this huge mound of paper (which presumably one would have to stuff into a suitcase in order to carry it around). An ageing aunt, perhaps, knitting quietly in the sunlit corner of her living room as she waits for her tea to cool.
"Hello aunty" you blurt out, staggering in from the hallway with your suitcase banging into her carefully arranged Dresden china on the little coffee table "You'll never guess what I've got to give you and it's only taken me three weeks non stop effort to make it. ".
"Oh I do love surprises. I really don't mind what it is, although I am rather allergic to paper these days. I always meant to mention it but I kept forgetting"
"Um, absolutely fine, aunty, just let me pop out for a moment and then I shall present you with this beautiful, empty, suitcase because you are someone special"

I have never taken to Origami since school days when everyone used to make those silly snapper things you flicked back and forth over your fingers [Don't worry about it, not important. Ed]. I am certainly not going to take it up now in order to complete an utterly futile task that would only baffle and irritate the someone special who would have to decide what on earth to do with 1000 bits of paper. Furthermore they are likely to enquire why I could not have spent my time more productively and I would be utterly stumped for an answer. For this reason I refuse to do it.

There's a lot of space in here

I use an anti-virus programme called Avira to protect my computer against internet nasties. As far as I can tell it works as intended, though really you can never be sure about this type of software until you actually get an attack. Be that as it may, you do assume that this sort of product is made by people with a fairly good grasp of computer technology. In which case, imagine my bemusement at the following pop-up (Avira likes to show me this sort of message each morning in the hope that I will spend loads of cash with them).

If you enter more than one ordinary space (by touching the space bar on the keyboard more than once), these extra spaces are ignored when a web page is displayed. So a bit of code is needed. "&" followed by "nbsp;" is used to indicate each extra space on the same line. It appears that the person who coded this little message forgot to put the leading "&" in; web code, like all computer code, is unforgiving of errors. No "&" means that it simply displays the rest of the string and the result is what you see above.

The trouble is, if something as basic as that, and as easy to test, slips through the net, who knows what other little bugs may be lurking in the software?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Election Time?

I've been phoned twice in the past few days by opinion pollsters. They want to confirm that I live in the constituency of Uxbridge & South Ruislip and then what my voting intentions might be should there be an election fairly soon. It is a coincidence that I happen to live in the constituency represented by the Prime Minister? Well, given that I have rarely had my views canvassed before with such frequency I rather think not. I wonder if our beloved leader is either testing the waters for a general election or becoming concerned about his own survival should he take the plunge?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Return to the Rhone

A week in Provence, land of almonds, figs, the magnificent limestone gorges and cliffs of the Luberon and the rolling vineyards of the Cote du Rhone. It was almost liberating to leave Brexit-torn Britain behind and head out for the sunshine. We stayed in Avignon, a city that one can reach on a single train journey from London (though the return must be made via Paris or Lille because Avignon is not yet equipped to handle outgoing international passengers). Imagine my pleasure to find that this delightful city is now installing a tram system; it is still under test and we saw nothing of it until one morning as our coach whisked us past the ancient ramparts ...

Avignon has a severe rush-hour problem (as we can testify having spent about twenty five minutes driving about half a kilometre one evening) but I am not sure what impact the trams will have. They do not go inside the old, walled, city at all and don't seem to follow the ring road around the walls for very far. But no matter. It is always nice to add a tram pic to the collection.

The last time we were in Avignon, French railways did us no favours by running our homeward-bound TGV so late that we missed the Eurostar connection; This time they did run to time (but a four hour journey with no buffet or even a refreshment trolley?) and it was Eurostar who gave us a thirty minute delay in Lille.