Sunday, 30 September 2012

Replacement bulbs

Looking for all the world like Onions, these are in fact Daffodil bulbs. These were spotted these while we were wandering around the garden centre. 

I quite liked the smooth cream colour and the broken brown skins. No Onions, I mean Daffodils, were rearranged in the making of this picture.

They really do look like onions to a non gardener like me. 

Here's the strange thing: You can eat onion bulbs but not their flowers. You can eat Daffodil flowers but not their bulbs.

It's a strange world, isn't it?

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Think sideways

I am told that our local council are experimenting with a new type of tarmac road surface. It is supposed to last longer and make West Berkshire a safer place. Some years ago they built the Newbury bypass and experimented with a new tarmac composition that was supposed to be quieter.

It seems the search is always on for a better road surface. 

Well, I have an excellent suggestion: Cover the roads in ice. It isn't that difficult. While the old surface is being removed and the refrigeration installed, you could put optical fibre and we would have twenty first century IT infrastructure at the same time.  

Here's a typical experimental surface. Click for larger view.

Here are the advantages:

Ice covered roads are easier to see in the dark. They don't need to shed water, in fact they capture it. This helps prevent flooding and makes the roads largely self maintaining. Being smooth, the surface doesn't wear away so easily so they last longer, and they are certainly quieter. After the initial period of shock, the accident rate would actually decline as people realised just how slowly they have to drive on ice.

I confidently expect some small token of gratitude from the Government when they read this.

Friday, 28 September 2012


Italy is full of old stuff. They have so much old stuff they take it for granted. 

This rather splendid cast iron pump has had a modern galvanised tap stuffed in it's mouth. I wonder if you could get away with that in Oxford or Stratford on Avon...

Up in the hills they are at it as well. This wall fountain has also been "converted".

Thursday, 27 September 2012


What is the point of this?

It is a handbrake on a farm trailer. Yes, I suppose it has to be fitted by Euro law or some health and safety rule.

You know what will happen. If you actually use it on a slope the trailer will roll away anyway. If you come back in a week it will have rusted on and the wheels will be locked.

They fit them. No-one uses them. 

At least it is somewhere to hang the hydraulic pipe...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Only in Italy

This is a new one on me. It's a fresh pizza machine spotted at the bus station in Sorrento. 

Fresh pizza: It mixes the flour in front of you. It adds the tomato and your selected topping. The process can be seen through the window on the left.

It cooks it there and then and it serves it out of the flap on the right.

How cool is that? I wonder if it works?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Two wheel culture

Ah, Italy. Land of the Moped.

This trusty if unstable two wheeled design icon can be seen transporting families of three and four on a daily basis. Children hold the windscreen or the handlebars, and their grip is all that keeps them on the machine. Maybe it is an early lesson in personal responsibility.  

In a rare concession to safety, I note that the driver is now obliged to wear a helmet, something I don't remember from our visit to Firenze in 2000.

Italian roads are an exciting mixture of Coaches, Cars, Mopeds and Pedestrians. They paint white lines and dots on the roads in Italy, but quite what function these markings serve I cannot detect.

They also put up signs to show that narrow pathways are not for wheeled traffic. These signs seem to be merely advisory, and are generally open for debate.

If you are a pedestrian in Italy, my advice is: Look both ways all the time, and perhaps consider staying at home. 

Monday, 24 September 2012


As part of our Rome in six hours trip, we toured the Vatican Museum. The Sistene chapel was splendid, but packed with us tourists and generally spoiled as a result. 

I would like to see the place on my own, but I guess you have to be the Pope to have that privilege.

Anyway, elsewhere I came across this enormous item. What is it? An Inquisition Thumbscrew?

Next to it was an even more scary implement. 

The mind boggles as to the original use of this item.  Maybe it part of the specialised Recanting Astronomer Kit?

Sunday, 23 September 2012


The Amalfi coast occupies the southern side of the Sorrento peninsular and the landscape is, if anything, even more extreme. Towns are built on any land that is not quite vertical and everyone has a view of the bay of Salerno. Your balcony or terrace is quite often the roof of the house below.

This was all very well when goats and donkeys formed the majority of the traffic. These days you are likely to face two hundred steps between your front door and your car each morning. Once out of the town you will have to tackle many a winding and narrow kilometre before you see the open road.

So - here are some more details from the Sorrento peninsular: 

The Amalfi car workshop clearly has respect for the local geography.

The Mediterranean is the land of crumbling plaster, peeling paintwork and the unfinished house project. Quite unlike Switzerland, for example.

They also do a good line in Faded Splendour as well.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Visit the Bay of Naples and you can't ignore Vesuvius. It's like the Elephant in the Room: 

Always there in the corner of your eye. Brooding. Waiting.

It is, fortunately, the most monitored volcano on the planet. Six hundred thousand people live inside the so called red zone and a total of three million are at risk if it decides to do a really big bang.

This view of the monster across the bay near sunset (click image for full size pano) was pleasant enough with nothing between us and the crater.

So: I set to calculating how much time we would have between a bright flash and the shock wave hitting the hotel (I'm a pessimist you see). It's about one hundred and twenty seconds to get away from large sheets of glass and into some kind of protected area. 

Best not use the lift then.

The good news is that it didn't explode when we were there. 

The locals view is that it is a "good vulcano - is asleep". Hmm. Imagine the situation when three million excitable Italians are told an eruption is imminent and the best way out is by car....

Friday, 21 September 2012


No trip to the Bay of Naples is complete without a visit to Pompeii. This vast 270 acre site is almost too much to take in, particularly in the scant two hours we had with our coach guide.

Here's a view of the Auditorium near the end of the visit. A chance to sit down and relax for a moment. 

As always, click on the image for the full size version.


The plaster casts of the victims are a chilling and sombre sight in amongst all the ruins

For a more relaxed and informative experience, I suggest Herculaneum, on the other side of Vesuvius. Unlike Pompeii, this was covered in volcanic ash and mud which created a anaerobic layer that led to the  preservation of wood and similar materials. Here is a panorama of the buried town that shows how far below the current ground level it is.

Most of Herculaneum is under the more recent town. It was lost for centuries: Historians agreed the it and Pompeii were on the coast, but they were digging in the wrong place, as the AD79 eruption moved the coastline by over a mile.

This is all very sifferent from modern Sorrento where we were staying.

Thursday, 20 September 2012


The Amalfi coast on the southern side of the Sorrento peninsular is host to some pretty and spectacular roads. These are roads that we might call impassable here in the UK. 

Let the coach driver do the work and relax if possible. Then you can take in the views and search out interesting corners (pun intended).

Here we find ourselves in Ruffulo. There is in fact less to it than meets the eye. Never mind, it is small but perfectly formed.

Back in Marina Grande, an unexpected view up a Snicket or Ginnel...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Sorrento and it's sister towns live on the south side of the Bay of Naples. It has been a popular resort with the British since the second world war, and the natives are friendly and well disposed to us. 

Built on volcanic Tufa rock, parts of the town perch on vertical cliffs overlooking the bay with a fantastic view of Vesuvius in the distance. Inevitably, as a tourist destination, the picturesque town centre is surrounded by a large number of hotels.

On the other side of the peninsula you find the picturesque Amalfi coast.

If you go down to the old harbour and search out the older corners you can still find decaying splendour that hints of the 19th century. The sad and unused building on the left was a hotel, has had several names over the years, and now seems to be a boat hire shop.

Many of the visitors arrive by cruise ship, and these appear before dawn to present the passengers with breakfast at sunrise. (Click for full size panorama)

Just around the corner from Sorrento you find Marina Grande. It is a tiny fishing port that the tourist trade mostly misses. Walking down the steps from the cliff top hotels is a leg breaking experience, but it is a charming backwater. Click for the bigger picture once again.

Dawn and sunrise in Autumn can be a special experinece, as mist hangs over Sorrento and the buildings are defined by the receding effects of perspective and grey.

These pictures were taken from the Bel Air hotel to the South West of Sorrento, which gets our stamp of approval.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


After a short break, you will be pleased to know that life is still being observed.

We took a week's holiday in Italy which is a country near Europe, and here is the proof:

Click on the picture to see it all big. This was the result of four pictures stitched together in the inevitable Photoshop, and it gives some impression of the size of the thing. Imagining the Roman crowds packed in up to the rafters all baying for blood is a weird and unpleasant thought.

Strange but the Colisseum turns out to be larger that I expected, in just the same way that Stonehenge isn't.

Coming soon: A visit to Pompeii.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Drip drip drip. 

Time is passing. 

One day there will be no time left. What will happen then, eh?

Think on, as they say up north.

Saturday, 8 September 2012


Driving around in it's very own cloud of dust, the big Fendt tractor and huge disk harrow make short work of another field. The seed drill awaits, another year starts.

The photographer did get covered in dust to take this picture. We suffer for our art you know.

Friday, 7 September 2012


Standing out amongst all the fluffly round things, here's some Mare's Tails Cirrus clouds. They look man made: Like a badly drawn chalk mark across the sky.

Maybe, like crops marks, they are a message from aliens. 

Yes. That's what it is, a message from aliens. "Stop looking up here and get back to work"

Thursday, 6 September 2012


Plain and simple.

We have had some beautiful blue skies recently: Here are some rooks perched at the very top of a tall tree, surveying the landscape before they fly away to spend the afternoon just messing about.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Down in the Servants Hall, everyone is summoned by bells. This is Kingston Lacy again. When the wire and pendulum arrangement eventually failed there were still bells on the telephone to summon the Butler or the Maid of all work.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012


Here's an unusual sight. A seventeenth century Chained Library at Wimborne Minster in Dorset. This contains books dating back to the 14th century and is one of only four in britain.


Sunday, 2 September 2012


Kingston Lacy has it's dark corners, especially now that the National Trust has lowered all the blinds and closed the shutters to preserve the interior.

The NT redeems itself these days by allowing photography with no flash. A good decision. Kingston Lacy redeems itself on the top floor where the roof lantern lets daylight in and brings the magnificent plaster mouldings to life

This was an exercise in exposure and crowd control..