Thursday, 23 November 2017

Modigliani at the Tate

Along to the Tate for the opening of the Modigliani exhibition.

There's a style to Modiligiani's portraits, which take an essence of a person and simplify its structure to a level that dare I say Disney would be pleased with.

The show has been heavily advertised for the large collection of nudes included, although there's also a compelling selection of portraits of his contemporaries.

An aspect airbrushed from the exhibition seems to be the beyond louche treatment that Modigliani meted out on some of his models. Here we have an artist who flamed and sputtered out by the age of 38, after copious sex, absinthe, cocaine and other Montmartre delicacies.

I enjoyed the exhibition. Maybe it doesn't appeal to many lovers of modernism, because it only offers a token amount of shapes, preferring instead to keep the personalities of the sitters recognisable.

There's some styling cues too, like the almond-shaped eyes, often dark and undetailed, yet still presenting a look towards the viewer.

Almost every portrait is of the sitter alone, without much distraction in background detailing. Look closely at some of the [pictures (you can get right up close to most of them) and it's possible to see the ways he filled in background and areas with sometimes small squares being painted consecutively. Here's one from a series of Paul Guillaume.

The show also featured a small and heavily subscribed Virtual Reality area, where Modigliani's studio was on display. Untidy, cluttered and with a VR cigarette smouldering in a corner. Add a bucket to catch dripping rain water and it is no wonder he was often ill.

But back to Modigliani, we can see pictures that span his short life. The latter ones include his then lover Jeanne Hébuterne.

Tragically, she died a couple of days after his own death, falling from a 5th floor window.

Exhibition worth seeing? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Popular? Certainly.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

beta testing festive Xmas travel arrangements

Sometimes it can all go a bit pear shaped. We'd met at the assigned point for a spot of lunch and maybe a glass of beer. Central London, just a few steps from Waterloo station. It was all part of the plan.

And we had a great time. Enough of a good time to stay a little longer than the original plan. It turned me into the designated survivor for the walk back to the station. I wasn't actually planning to go to the station at all. I needed to head along Lower Marsh, but this was only a short diversion.

I'll put it down to the last sips of Malbec. My colleague had something fo a parity failure. The type where everything becomes suddenly discombobulated.

I've had many years of commuting from Waterloo and recognise that progressive move towards the festive season, where there are a few slightly damaged people on the last trains home.

But this was (a) November and (b) only around 8pm.

Also, This. Was. Not. A. Drill.

Anyway, I poured my colleague into one of the blue flagged seats (the ones that signify 'may need attention'), checked that the train wasn't going much further than the required stop (Weybridge on a train to Woking). Then time to say goodbye and frantically text ahead for collection at the destination.

One slight glitch because there were two trains within 8 minutes of one another departing Waterloo.

Let's just say it worked out fine and I could then make my way back to Lower Marsh.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

lighting up time

The lights were turned on a few days ago and the wooden huts of the Christmas market are lively with punters in the grounds of the cathedral. I've actually consumed my first tartiflette with reblochon which seems to be a current festive thing.

An in my mince pie tasting the budget varieties are currently winning, with a close run thing between Tescos and Waitrose.

Of course we haven't actually crossed over that artificially introduced UK Black Friday yet, although some well-known on-line retailers are anxious to remind us of all kinds of bargains.

I'm also liking some of the slogans that have appeared: My current favourite is:

"All I want for Christmas is...
simple journey planning to get us from stop to shop"

Snappy, isn't it? Especially when they closed the central bus routes for the evening that the sign was on display. Another slogan, "Hay, time to get your gift on." is obviously in some kind of code.

But kudos to the band in the shopping centre playing a mix of xmas tunes with some black-eyed peas mixed in. It was all very jolly with a good live buzz, balancing a Timmy Mallet meets Top of the Pops vibe, which was retro but genuinely enjoyable.

Here's some real Black-Eyed Peas. The still fabulous "Where is the love?"

Friday, 17 November 2017

Visible Girls: The Phoenix #exeter

I was along to the opening of Anita Corbin's Visible Girls exhibition at the Phoenix in Gandy Street on Thursday. It's a series of double portraits by Anita Corbin, taken in in the 1980s and reflecting the colourful and vibrant personalities of those featured.

The original series illustrated various types of non-conformity, sub-cultures, styles and spirit. Many of the young women were playing with self identity, captured in the pairs of individuals.

A later twist has been to re-photograph the same pairs of women in modern times. Quite a challenge, bridging a 35 year gap although a surprising number have been found and re-photographed thanks often to social media.

On opening night, the gallery was packed with people animatedly exploring the pictures. I'm told the project continues as there are still some of the original set that have escaped the second picture.

These are lovely often posed pictures, taken at clubs, pubs and even ladies loos, sprinkled around London. There's limited scratchy backdrops which are still evocative of place and time and in some cases the original location has been used for both pictures. In one example, there's a copy of the original picture on a piano in the recent picture. Every picture has a little caption naming the women and often explaining the future situation and when and how they were tracked down.

I like the way the colour and lighting has been used too. Some photographers used to challenge the authenticity of portraiture in colour, yet here it works perfectly. I like that there's catchlight in eyes and the new pictures have been taken to blend very well with the older ones.

For me, most of all, it's about the way that the individuality, friendships and attitude have been captured.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

carping about parking

I had to add another new parking app to my phone the other day. There's supposed to be two brand leaders, but there seem to be an awful lot of second tier additions.

I notice Westminster has taken the once-ubiquitous RingGo and re-branded it for their own use. All so we can get a picture of Parliament on the home page.

To get around my area we need to use at least a couple of these apps regularly, no doubt the result of some whimsical tendering process.

As it all becomes increasingly cashless, there are the additionally systems that use Wave or some other contactless add-ons.

The trick is to remember to keep the apps current, which is easier done away from the parking site. A rainy windswept Pay and Display isn't always the ideal spot to have to do update maintenance and downloads, simply to be able to park. Although sitting updating parking apps isn't what I'd expect in Generation Y.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

too early

I see a few newspapers published articles about the Greggs advent calendar before the commentary related to the sausage roll picture started.

The London Metro includes a picture of the nativity scene, with the sausage roll and a description about shepherds paying a nativity homage. No criticism from that paper, although I think they got their sheep-minding facts wrong. Even I can see the three pictured men are carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I'll be watching to see if the Metro, Mirror and others now attempt to flip across to the critical bandwagon.

There's an indulgent hypocrisy to all of this, given most people's secular outlook. Office parties, booze, gifts, Festivus '97, winter sales. I'm reminded of that story about expelling the merchants from the temple, somewhat overlooked whilst we drift towards this year's Yule.

Meanwhile, Greggs continues via its longstanding Greggs Foundation, to donate to 450 children breakfast clubs across the UK and quietly donates its unsold food to numerous UK food banks, where the amount has increased 16 fold over the last four years.

shorting the UK

They say that instability worries the stock markets, so an outfit like the tax-avoiding Barclay Brothers, owners of the Torygraph and based in Monaco and Brecqhou in the Channel Islands can wreak havoc with their Правда-like stories.

I suppose it is a way to make money from Brexit news. I expect there are others with similar ideas.

Here's how. Create disruption. Sell short. Sell shares you don't own and buy them back on the instability pushing the prices south. Make sure it's all done through offshore arrangements and then there's no tax bills to worry about.

Here's the last few days on the market, with today's news creating a further wipeout.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

rise of the fast idiots

We all know that Dan Ashcroft was right with his predictions of the cereal cafes and twit machines which invaded Hipston and other oft-bearded areas.

I still occasionally watch an episode of that Nathan Barley series, which is so ancient that it had to predict the likes of Twitter and smoked salmon coffee before they were, y'know, things.

Now much of Ashcroft's world has happened, to the extent that some people watch the TV show on YouTube and have to ask if it is meant to be a spoof. Meanwhile the nextgen worldview variants are powered up, with ever increasing artificial intelligence. There's earnest debates on the radio about the rise of robots to replace workers.

Some of it seems bizarre, like the camera built into an oven to check how the cakes are coming along, and the full sized screen on a fridge to show its contents without opening the door.

In technology we used to talk about a solution looking for a problem. I sense that we have passed that point now, as many of the Generation Y and even some Zs are reaching positions of influence in product design.

I can see the temptation put ever-cheaper electronics into everything, but it can all go awry. Our previous oven was touch-screen controlled but would require a complete re-boot about once every two weeks. The built-in microwave needed about six separate menu selections to start, compared with the prior one which needed one twist of a dial.

The new smart radiator controls miss a point. Generally you don't need to continuously micro adjust the heat output of individual home radiators and an occasional twist to, say, position 3 can suffice. Below are a couple of thermostat examples. The one on the left is manual and twisted to position 3. The one on the right is battery operated, requires a wi-fi connection and can then be set by the arrows or a phone. I notice it is also low on battery at the moment.

Of course, I do play around with the home technology and have some of it for lights and television control simplification (one handset instead of five etc). It's that question of balance.

So will my self-driving car be capable of negotiating twisty Devon single track lanes with passing places. Will it be able to convincingly reverse when a tractor is ahead? Will Alexa learn to stop interrupting television shows with random outbursts of non-comprehension?

Can Google learn that when I ask for "train Exeter to Paddington" (A famous and high-speed route from the dawn of the railways direct to London), that I don't want to go to Paddington, Warrington.

We seem to be at an interesting point. Like Dan Ashcroft's rise of the idiots, I suspect we now have to add in a couple of other factors. The click generation with it's less than 140 character attention span coupled with an abundance of high speed. They used to call a computer a fast idiot; perhaps its time has arrived?

Monday, 13 November 2017

at the beach

Just because it is almost officially winter doesn't mean we can't visit the beach.

That's the second time in the last few days that we've dined by the water's edge. Last time outside a pub and this time a small restaurant looking out to sea. In between I strolled a different beach along the evening sand.

Winter can wait just a while longer.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

fixing the non-charging iPhone

My iPhone has been erratically charging for a couple of weeks. It kinda sneaks up that it isn't charging when I've had a couple of days where it has been down to the red battery level unexpectedly.

I checked the various charging cables and noticed they needed to be wiggled before the phone would charge. Then I remembered the occasional need to blow into the lightening port. This time no difference and I couldn't find the canned air to give more of a blast. Instead I found a small screwdriver to pick carefully at the lint which had worked its way into the slot. A surprising amount, easily enough to stop electrical connections. Of course, if I were telling someone else to try this I'd suggest using a non conductive material such as a toothpick.

Normal charging (including through a charging dock) has resumed.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Further Emissions

I've been keeping an eye on the moves to make London's air cleaner with the various new congestion charges. My own car already pays the £10.50 per day charge when it is in London for not being electric or hybrid. If you don't enrol in the automatic scheme then it is £11.50 per day.

My vehicle is a Blue Efficiency model, to Euro 5 standards, which were the most efficient available at the time of purchase. As a result, it dodges the extra charge that is due to start in April next year. That's the T-Charge, which is a further £10 per day.

It starts for diesel cars up to Euro 4, so my Euro 5 is a pass.

But then, in 2019, the ULEZ is being introduced. Ultra Low Emissions Zone. That's the one for less than Euro 6 diesel and will affect my car (if I still have it). The daily charge for that is £12.50, so at that point my car would cost £11.50 + £12.50 per day in Central London. £24 before parking is enough to consider other options, although I suppose many with company accounts or the well-heeled will consider this simply a cost of doing business. For anyone with an older vehicle at Euro 4 level or lower it is even tougher with a cost of £34 per day.

I'm all for cleaner air and am a regular cyclist for shorter journeys. I also use public transport around the centre comprising a mix of bus and tube. I still find it galling that I bought diesel when we were all told to, that the mpg was much better, that the common rail versions were all clean and nothing like the old smelly diesels of yesteryear.

It is consequently annoying to be penalised at the extent envisaged, because new discoveries have shown the previous science, marketing and good citizenship to be wrong.

We are also in the middle of a cycle of manufacturers' semi-updates to vehicles. The manufacturers are figuring out how to make batteries, how to make them last, how to redesign the cars for them to fit, how the replacements will be fitted after about 4-5 years. The list goes on. They also have heaps invested int ht current production lines and will no doubt want to keep it run sign as long as possible. As a comparison of longevity I notice that Ford still fit drum brakes to the rear wheels of many of their vehicles.

I also have a suspicion that whilst a Euro 5 diesel car might last 8-10 years, the substitute semi-electric will have a considerably shorter life because of the cost of renewing the power packs.

Guess I'll need to keep an eye on Mr Musk's share price.