Jane’s Dad visited us the week before last. Not content with having dragged him all over Skye and the Outer Hebrides in 2004, we took him out to Argyll (with one eye on the weather report) and caught the two-hour ferry to Islay, legendary home to Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Port Ellen (and visited them all, even if we didn’t sample every one). The island itself turned out to be every bit as rugged and beautiful as its neighbours, with the threatening rain giving dramatic skies at every turn. Best of all were the flocks of Barnacle Geese wintering over from Greenland. Everywhere we went sounded like Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus for birds and orchestra. (One of the best pieces of classical music I’ve discovered in years—seriously. It’s The Lark Ascending with honking.)
Please Turn Left Now
We rented a car on Friday to drive down to Nottingham for the weekend to visit friends, and it turned out to have sat nav. I’d never driven a car with sat nav before, with its LCD screen in the middle of the dashboard and mellifluous but stilted Englishwoman telling us what to do. Jane turned it on as we left the carpark and before long it was telling me to turn left every time I turned right, because at first it was trying to guide us back to the rental place.
Driving out of town it wanted to take us down the east coast, presumably because the route was a few miles shorter, but I wanted to go down the west, which has a much higher proportion of motorway. So I struck onto the Biggar road, only to keep getting told to detour or turn around. “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “If possible, PLEASE do a U-TURN.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” It was like being told off by a robot Supernanny.
We went down to London a couple of times in June and July, first to see my brother and Jane’s brother, who had both come over for work, and then to see James and friends at a recording of That Mitchell and Webb Look (which was great, so watch out for it in September). Along the way there was the usual photographic frenzy.
A tour around Japan in six and a half episodes, thirteen thousand words and a hundred photographs.
- Japanese Vending Machines
- Display Cases
- Lights, Action, Camera
- Book Off Manga
- Cream Puffs and Noodle Nuts
- The Floating World
The Floating World
Japan, Part VI
For a moment I was worried. The woman at the tourist office was telling us that there was no accommodation left in Kyoto. I regretted lingering over the bento boxes in the Tokyo Station food court now, deciding which combination of sushi, tempura, vegetables and rice in a compartmented imitation-bamboo box to buy. Because our 11-ish departure had ended up more 2-ish, we might have to catch the next train out of town and stay in Osaka or Nara.
“Very hard to find Western-style hotels right now. Only Japanese-style.”
Oh, was that all. “That’s fine,” I said, not letting on that we’d been about to ask for a ryokan anyway. Who wants to stay in a same-as-anywhere hotel room when you can have futons and rice-paper doors?
Cream Puffs and Noodle Nuts
Japan, Part V
Three wonderful things among the many purchased, tasted or seen during our trip.
Japan, Part IV
On my first trip to Japan twenty years ago, the family travelled to an island in the Inland Sea that a Japanese friend of Dad’s had recommended. It was a memorable day, partly because we nearly missed the last boat off the island at the end of it. We would have had to spend the night outdoors, because there wasn’t much on the island except a museum.
It was a great museum, though. It was full of samurai armour—suits and suits of it, all segmented and lacquered like polished carapaces. And they sold a beautiful book of the collection, full of full-page photographs. Which is the other reason I remember the place: because I didn’t buy that book, even though I wanted it. It was twenty bucks, which was like spending about seventy or a hundred today. I just couldn’t justify it—not at the beginning of a long trip where I might want to buy other things with my modest savings.
Lights, Action, Camera
Japan, Part III
You don’t visit Tokyo for the traditional culture, although there are glimpses of it here and there. You visit it to stand in streets lined with neon lights while reciting Rutger Hauer’s valedictory speech from Blade Runner, beloved of students of science fiction everywhere. The best places for this are Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara, and the last has the advantage that it’s Tokyo’s “Electric Town”, crammed full of multiple floors of home electronics, digital cameras, mobile phones, and computers. Most of the time you’re just window shopping, unless you can read kanji keyboards, but some shops boast that “We are the reliable Source of English Computer” (Amstrads? Acorns? ZX80s?), and there are bargain peripherals to be had. I looked longingly at a checkerboard keyboard on the ninth floor of Laox—the keys alternating in colour, black/white/black/white—but I didn’t really need it and knew it would drive me mad. I picked up a couple of things, though, and when I went up to an empty counter a store assistant ran to serve me. I don’t think I’ve seen that happen anywhere else on the planet.
Japan, Part II
Apart from the fact that its name reminded me of Judge Dredd’s hometown of Mega-City One, there was no earthly reason to visit Meguro. No reason, that is, apart from its most famous museum, which I hadn’t even heard of until the day before.
What we did last weekend, and why there are no more Japan photos yet: Cheshire and Lancashire, where even the white bits were black.
A Photo-Essay in Seven Parts
Well, it’s as long as an essay. Has references and everything. Links, anyway.
I’m almost at the point where I can start posting some Japan galleries. First I have to write something profound to go with them (your millennia-old culture in fifteen hundred words or less!), but the photos themselves are almost there. Warning: digital camera + multiple-gig storage device + Sensory Overload Land = pile of photos it takes weeks to sort through.
When I went out to Melbourne last month I wondered how it would look after the war on graffiti I’d been reading about online. Can’t say I noticed much difference, really, particularly on the long train ride to Eltham for my friends’ wedding. Tags everywhere—but here and there was something more interesting.
Five Days in Tassie
Nicole has asked me what to see on a spur-of-the-moment five-day trip to Tassie, starting in Hobart and ending in Launceston—me being the born and bred Tasmanian and all. Which puts me on the spot, because although it looks like a tiny place you could nip round in an afternoon, Tasmania is actually as big as Ireland (it even has the same North–South sectarian divide), and it’s impossible to see it all in a short trip. So it’s a case of deciding what sort of things you’d like to see the most.
Rather than just reply in an embarrassingly long email, I thought I’d turn it into an embarrassingly long blog post. So, read this while pretending you’re Nic (which if you are Nic should be a piece of cake).
After averaging 26 months between visits to Australia since we left, I’m about to slash my average to 19. The photographic opportunities are just too good to ignore, especially when one of my friends is willing to dress up and dance around in front of the camera like a man possessed—possessed by the spirit of matrimony.
Of course, when you’re faced with shelling out for two international airfares it helps to have work pay for half of it. And it helps even more if it’s somebody else’s work. And it helps even more if you get to swan around Tokyo doing your best Scarlett Johansson impression while the work is being done by that somebody else. Which is exactly what I’ll be doing while Jane goes to a trade fair, when we stop over in Japan on our way back from Melbourne.
Down the Peninsula
I’ve finally finished the last of these photo galleries, and as you’ll see have saved the best for last. Well, I would say that, seeing as how I grew up not too far away and have spent many happy days there.
Hope you’ve enjoyed them. More in a few months... in the meantime, we return you to regular old words bashed into a keyboard.
Okay, it was slightly optimistic to think I’d have sorted through all the Australia photos by Christmas. But here are the first second fruits: a tour of the Eastern seaboard almost as frantic as it felt (minus one significant exception—I’m saving Tassie for last). I’ve tried to avoid too many of the obvious shots and include only the things that struck me as new or unusual on my umpteenth visits to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane, with one or two familiar landmarks thrown in. Shame I couldn’t take the camera on the Bridge Climb—that was fantastic (thanks, G).
The whole exercise reminds me how much of my first twenty years of photo-taking goes untapped in Detail, but half of them are in storage, and as for the other half... well, that’s a lot of scanning.
Clap Your Hands Say Anything
This is going to seem pretty pointless when I’ve just spent all week doing everything else except post here, but the RSS 2.0 feed for this site is now human-readable—assuming said human is using Mozilla or Firefox. That’s right, I’ve added an XSLT stylesheet to convert it into HTML. All those months of XML work have finally paid off... in the form of a page that isn’t even directly linked from the front of the site (unless you choose Show Site Navigation Bar Always in Mozilla). And if you’re using Safari it overrules my XSLT with its own RSS format and defaults to the 1.0 file anyway (which doesn’t have the XSLT, because it’s RDF); and who knows what happens in IE6/Win, so really, what’s the point.
It’s not all breathtaking cityscapes. Take a quick spin around New York’s pipes and Boston’s sewers. (That’s right, I’m asking you to load 60k jpegs of manholes. It doesn’t get any better than this, baby.)
Revisiting New York was like seeing a whole new city, even though I’d been there in 1992. There were some prominent absences in the landscape, obviously, but a decade of watching Seinfeld, listening to Interpol and the Strokes and reading the online words of New York peers also transformed the experience. Our hotel was around the corner from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles brasserie, a few blocks from Park Avenue and the Empire State, and we arrived hours after the end of a transport strike that recalled the 1970s. Even catching the subway made me think of The Taking of Pelham 123 (the superb original, not the remake). New York felt just like... New York, New York.
Start Spreading the News
Now that I’ve finished sorting out the New York photos there’s the little matter of writing a blurb to announce them... which if I tried to do it justice would take me as long again. So let’s just say that 55 pictures equals 55,000 words, and leave it there for now.