We Are Very Special

October 22, 2020

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” – Stephen Hawking

Eltham Palace and Gardens

September 5, 2020

In August, I visited Eltham Palace and Gardens, an English Heritage site. Here’s some photos and a few explanatory remarks.

The building is located in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, in the south-east of London and a 15 minute walk from a train station. Some parts of the Palace and Gardens are currently closed off due to restrictions of covid but at least it’s open.

It has a long history, starting out as a medieval palace, then became a royal residence and, in 1933 after a period of neglect, was bought by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld (millionaire heirs to the textile empire). They transformed it into an Art Deco mansion infused with the latest technology of the time. They used it to entertain a diverse social circle including Stravinsky, Gracie Fields, band leader Lew Stone plus film producers and politicians.

The imposing entrance hall

Skylight in the entrance hall giving a lot of natural light

The elaborate stairs to the first floor

A view of the side panels in the main entrance hall

Partial view of the gardens from the first floor

Bedroom of Stephen Courtauld connected through a ‘secret door’ to that of his wife’s bedroom (see below)

Virginia Courtauld’s luxurious golden bathroom which contains a statue of the goddess Psyche

The millionaire couple were fairly eccentric and had a pet lemur that roamed around and occasionally bit guests. The lemur, named Mah-Jongg, was so pampered it had centrally heated sleeping quarters. The lemur was bought from Harrods, this store had an Animal Department which sold exotic pets to wealthy customers (closing in 2014).

The interesting ‘map room’ where they planned their worldwide travels.

The very spacious dining room with elaborate door (see below).

In somewhat stark contrast, here’s the imposing medieval Great Hall (which you can now apparently hire for events).

You can read about the history of Eltham Palace more fully here.

There’s also a nice visual presentation of the Palace under Google Arts and Culture.

Finally some background on the millionaire pair here.

You May Both Be Wrong

June 11, 2020

“Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.” – Dandemis (philosopher of Ancient India)

Trip to Brazil with a Hasty End

May 2, 2020

The magnificent beach at Maracaipe (see below)

In March this year I made a trip with my partner Clarice (who is Brazilian) to Brazil, partly to see her family and friends but also for a holiday. The aim was to spend most of the time in or near Recife in northeast Brazil and then finish off with 5 nights in Rio de Janeiro in the south. Unfortunately this was cut short due to the escalating coronavirus situation in the UK and we had to get an earlier flight back (only one night in Rio).

Now that I have time on my hands due to the lockdown, I thought I’d write up my travel experiences as a photo essay. It also allows me to focus on much happier times!

We stayed with a friend who lived in the Boa Viagem district of Recife and her flat overlooked the main beach (see photos above and below), a really great location. It’s apparently the longest stretch of urbanized seafront in Brazil and a coastal reef calms the waves to help keep the water at a wonderful 25 °C. As you can see the beach goes on for miles, 5 to be exact.

Rather than repeating them, here are two sites that give a full list of interesting things to do and visit in Recife (here and with some photos here).

One thing about Recife that surprised me was that it had a British Country Club. It was originally founded in 1920 by the British who at that time had a significant presence in Recife.

This made me curious about the interesting historical link to the UK (which I was unaware of, see here for details). In the early 19th century the British began to arrive in Brazil, focusing on the ports of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife. The aim was to find new and lucrative opportunities for industry and trade based on their commanding sea presence at the time.

In Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco, they set up a number of firms, banks and public utilities. Interesting examples include the Western Telegraph Company (which allowed contact with the world through a submarine cable), the Pernambuco Tramways and Power Company (including setting up railway and tram transport in the region) and the Pernambuco Paper Mills.

More up to date, there’s even a video clip of Queen Elizabeth arriving in Recife on the start of a State Visit in 1968! At that time Guararapes airport at Recife was used as an important maintenance and refuelling stop for aircraft travelling between South America and Europe.

Nearby Recife is the pretty city of Olinda, whose historic downtown area was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. The city has a number of attractive churches and plays host to its own Carnival and street party. It also has many delightful restaurants and bars, often with great views.

We also paid a trip to the beach resort of Maracaipe, about an hour by car south of Recife, and near to the popular resort of Porto de Galenas.

This is where we stayed in Maracaipe, a great place to relax

Typical boat used to travel to the natural pools nearby

Time for a drink in the shallows, it really is a bar!

Setting sun (above) leading to a full moon (below)

Although we only had one night in Rio we made the most of it by paying a friendly taxi driver to show us the sights over two days. We drove around the different districts (Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon etc) which gave me an excellent overview (it was my first time in Rio, Clarice has been there many times and knows it well). Unfortunately most places (museums, galleries, cable cars) were closed as lockdown was just starting up so there weren’t many opportunities for casual exploring or photos.

View of near empty Copacabana Beach on an overcast day

People practising in a park near the Museum of Modern Art

Pretty Vermelha Beach in the neighbourhood of the Sugarloaf Mountain

Another view at Vermelha Beach

Clarice and myself, on the sightseeing trip and waiting for the flight back

Flying back from Rio, we arrived to an eerily deserted Gatwick Airport in the UK. A full lockdown started soon after (March 23rd) and it’s still going on…

Comment: there were a couple of typos in the original posting that have now been corrected.

The Weight and Playing for Change

October 18, 2019

Very nice international (5 continents) version of “The Weight”, from the inspiring Playing for Change project.

“Playing For Change is a movement created to inspire and connect the world through music, born from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. Our primary focus is to record and film musicians performing in their natural environments and combine their talents and cultural power in innovative videos we call Songs Around The World.”

Carving Out Personal Time

April 5, 2019

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche by Edvard Munch, 1906

“Today as always, men fall into two groups: slaves and free men. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a scholar.” – Nietzsche

Quite a provocative quote and I’ve been mulling about it ever since I read it a couple of weeks ago. It’s always good to have contrarian views to get you thinking!

The Sleep Business

April 5, 2019

I suffer from insomnia so am always interested to read the latest thinking on the subject plus (hopefully) some new ideas or approaches. It’s now become apparent, with the flood of articles, books and courses on the subject, that it is also now a booming business niche. It may be that all this attention is in some ways counter-productive.

There’s a thought-provoking piece by Darian Leader in the Guardian on this topic. Here’s a couple of extracts:

Just as we are both evaluated and pushed to self-evaluate in so many other areas of life, so now sleep itself becomes the first point of our daily review. We wake up not simply to worry about the tasks of the day but, first of all, to assess whether we have had our required hours and then, inevitably, worry about the consequences of our failure. A few decades ago, variety shows on Saturday night would showcase performers singing and dancing, but today we also get a panel of judges evaluating. How long would it be, indeed, before this merciless culture of evaluation came to colonise other aspects of our lives, including sleep?…

The sleep industry needs a reality check here. Although many of us have our own individual problems with sleeping, this should not act as an excuse to move attention away from our political landscape. In a world of massive job insecurity, long commutes, economic precarity and the pressure to maintain a positive image, how well can we really be expected to sleep? Should we be blaming ourselves and our mattresses, allowing ourselves to be duped in this latest chapter of marketing the human condition?

Liberating Goals

February 22, 2019

“In the absence of clearly defined goals we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until we become enslaved by it.” – Robert Heinlein (science fiction writer)

The Journey and the Goal

February 8, 2019

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Henry David Thoreau

Trip to Cadiz and Gran Canaria

April 23, 2018

View from the Tavira Tower showing Cadiz Cathedral

Looking at my blog, the last post was quite a while ago, about 3 months in fact. A lot has happened in between, however I’m now hoping to get back to writing on a more regular basis particularly as quite a few interesting topics have cropped up.

To start with, and something that conjures up pleasant memories, a 2 week trip to Spain in late Feb/March this year. Southern Spain was chosen as it seemed to be the best bet for good weather and we decided on a twin centre trip (Cadiz and Gran Canaria).


We flew from Bristol to Malaga and then drove along the coast to Cadiz which we assumed would be out of season and somewhat sleepy. The route we took meant that we arrved in Cadiz via the imposing La Pepa Bridge (see picture below).

To our surprise it was actually the last day of Cadiz Carnival so the town was jam-packed (the decision of where and what to do was fairly last-minute so we had little time to research).

One of the Cadiz Carnival singing groups

The only real drawback of the timing was that after the exuberance of the Carnival, most of the restaurants were closed in the evenings whilst we were there (to compensate for the long hours of the previous week). 

Here’s a selection of photos:

Typical street in the Old Town

From the Puppet Museum

View from the Tavira Tower with the La Pepa Bridge in the background

General impression of Cadiz: delightful city, great to wander around and quite varied. Good place to make some excursions, such as visiting Jerez de la Frontera, by car or train, which we unfortunately had no time for.

Sardina, Gran Canaria

At the end of the stay we drove back to Malaga to get a flight to Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. We started in Maspalomas in the south but the area wasn’t to our liking, being too crowded and touristy.

Leaving Maspalomas, we drove to the north west in the vicinity of Sardina. The apartment we’d booked was right on the coast with impressive views (see photos below). We took walks in the local area plus visited the nearby towns of Puerto de las Nieves, Agaete and Galdar.

Desolate roundabout at Sardina

View of the coast from the apartment balcony

View from the study (what a place to work from!)

Lunchtime view at Sardina

Lunch in Sardina featuring Canarian potatoes

View from Mirador, towards Agaete and the coast

View inland from Mirador

A bar in Agaete, still celebrating the local Carnival

We had Storm Emma for a day or two, howling winds, spray everywhere and the sound of nearby crashing waves.

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Moving to Las Palmas, we stayed just outside and explored the city centre plus surrounding inland areas.

Christopher Columbus House (Casa de Colon)

Exhibit at the Modern Art Museum

Beach area at Las Palmas

View inland from Pico de Bandama (popular viewpoint)

Typical street in nearby Telde

General impression of Gran Canaria: I really liked Gran Canaria when you were able escape the very busy touristy areas. The bewildering road systems in the main towns, presumably due to rapid expansion, are not for the faint-hearted.