The Adelphi Liverpool

Last week I spent an evening in Liverpool watching the Lodestar Theatre Company production of Romeo and Juliet, part of the Liverpool Shakespeare Festival.  It was a wonderful performance, with evocative AV backdrops, rich music and an energetic cast, the high spot for me probably Juliet’s effervescent energy as she covered the stage with 14 year old tomboy-ish exuberance.

For the night, due to an overbooked hotel elsewhere, I ended up at the Adelphi Hotel, right in the heart of Liverpool, only a hundred yards from Lime Street Station and the St George’s Hall, where the performance was staged.

The Adelphi seems like an hotel from a different age, a huge Victorian edifice in the heart of Liverpool city centre.  The perhaps more imposing station hotel has been converted into student accommodation, so now the Adelphi stands alone in the centre jostling with the glass and neon Holiday Inn and Travelodge for station travellers, still representing tradition in an age of automatic check-in and Lego-kit furnishing.

Like an ageing aunt, remembering her dancing days, bright lipstick slightly awry, the Adelphi is clearly struggling to maintain its dignity assailed  by the recession and narrowing margins from without, crumbling masonry and cast-iron radiators within, and the occasional onslaught of amiable drunks passing on their way from pub to pub.

Sometimes it seems that, like the crooked lipstick, things slip: three times dragging my suitcase up and down to and from my sixth floor room until my keycard was properly programmed (yes electronic keys, signs of the 21st century), the water taps that only just work and never gave a hot shower, or the lifts that seemed to constantly deliver the same packed group of pensioners up to the sixth floor when they really wanted to get down to the ground. But, like the firmly grasped handbag, hat and Sunday gloves, signs of a different standard of service, vast veneer wooden wardrobe and dressing table, brocade-covered arm chairs, a real teapot and cup and saucers with the (electric) kettle, and of course a room-service menu that includes “roast of the day”.

At breakfast it feels like a post-apocalyptic science-fiction set where in the aftermath of 1950s atomic testing  all conception ceased and so now, from wall to wall, the room is filled with septuagenarians eating unending supplies of bacon, fried eggs and toasted crumpets, with the only under-60 faces the serving staff from Eastern Europe, which has evidently been spared the mass impotence of the West.

But, did you notice, in an age of croissants, yogurt and Danish pasties – crumpets, yes real crumpets for breakfast – a trace of the Empire still survives in Liverpool L1.

So like the ageing aunt, whose occasional quirks and impatience you forgive, overlooking her inexpert makeup, for the memory of war-time childhood and rock-and-roll romances, so with the Adelphi, I forgive its dodgy plumbing and erratic lift, for the glimpse of a style and a world that is past and will soon be gone for ever.

And in days to come, in some hotel room of plastic, steel and wine-bar-like sheen, I will dream of my night at the Adelphi.

On Travelling and Stretched Souls

A few days ago I tweeted:

“Maybe people like car warranties have so many years or so many miles? Each flight a little death; 400 more miles on the clock. Better walk.”

This was half in jest, but set me thinking.

Each time I fly I feel thinner, more distant, like some bored executive’s rubber desktop toy overstretched. Now this may simply be age or ennui, but, naturally resisting such a simple explanation, I wonder about an alternative Pullman-esque world, not so different from our own, where, while our bodies move, some part of our soul, like a snail track or Theseus letting out Ariadne’s thread, is stretched behind, so that in the sky amongst the vapour trail of each passing plane, two hundred souls are also spread, vapourous, across the heavens.

It is not so far from the world we know where, with nostalgia and fond memory, it is clear some part of our heart is always left behind. If we move slowly, or rest still for periods, our souls regrow, regenerate, but, if we move too fast or too far, our body, Golem-like, continues to walk, yet our eyes increasingly blankly stare from an emptied heart, and our soul blows gossamer-like, spread thin across the empty seas.

Across Ireland to Limerick: Stepping Out of Time

Early last week I had  a few days external examining the iMedia course at Limerick.  A wonderful course I was impressed again at the Dawn 2010 show pieces produced by the students who come predominantly from arts or design backgrounds and many of whom have never touched code or soldering iron before starting the course.

As it was Bank Holiday weekend, flying would have meant spending 24 hours in an airport between flights and airport hotels in each direction, or alternatively driving south to an airport.  It seemed more sensible and more fun to drive south through Ireland itself, and in the process satisfy a little my itinerant spirit.

I didn’t manage to write as I went along, but have retrospectively made a number of post-dated photo-blogs:

Roads of the Sea — Tiree to Larne

Into the West — Larne to Westport

Serendipity and Song — Westport to Doolin

Last Day — Doolin to Limerick

Full set of photos at my Limerick-Aug-2010 Flickr photo set

Last Day — Doolin to Limerick

From Doolin’s harbour side you can see the ferries that ply back and forth to the Aran Islands.  The rock is limestone, like the Burren, and the land beneath cut through with caves including the world’s largest stalactite and the submerged ‘Green Holes’, only discovered in the 1980s.

While the Aran Islands stretch across the sea to the North West, to the South West rise the Cliffs of Moher, 200 metres from the sea, shortlisted alongside Kilimanjaro, the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon to be one of the new seven wonders of nature.  There is no beach, no sand or shingle, just sea and shear rock, but surfers travel there to ride the 35 foot wave at its feet.

The Moher visitor centre is dug and buried into the hillside with curved windows cut through the turf; Hobbit Town meets HiTech,  The paved, stepped, and wheelchair-access routed area with its viewing points and wall of wave-patterned Burran limestone slabs, ends at widely ignored signs threatening danger to life and limb if one proceeds.  You can see why the signs are there; it is not so much the lack of fence or wall between the cliff top path and precipitous edge, but the rock itself.  The limestone of the Burran, Doolin coast and Aran Isles has ended and this is younger, softer alluvial rock, at the cliff top often little more than flakes of shale in hardened mud.  The tourists peeking over the edge may be secure in footing, but the soft cliff edge itself might shrug them off to fly for a moment amongst the nesting gulls before hitting the water 600 feet below.

And out on the grass beside the forbidden cliff path, an Italian couple set up a video camera looking out towards the rocky headland, and sit in front of it to exchange rings.

Back at the visitor centre a sculptor was hard at work with chisel, angle grinder and chain saw, capturing the spirit of Maher from surfer to sea birds.  Shane Gilmore‘s sculptures are found across Western Ireland, and he was commissioned to make this one in situ during the Clare Heritage Week.  At Shane’s feet lay a collection of reference books; he explained that if he got some detail wrong, gave a bird the head of a gull and the body of a gannet, someone would be sure to notice.

It is only a short way from Doolin and Maher, and slightly longer of you cut back north to travel across the Burren, but worth it, for its near lunar yet surprisingly fertile landscape.   Few roads cut across the limestone countryside but far beneath the ground are subterranean rivers and networks of caves left from past water courses, treacherous as they too can flood rapidly when rain falls and drains through sinkholes and caverns.

At a distance the Burren landscape appears barren, but between the clints, giant paving slabs of grey stone, the cracks, or grykes, are rich with wild flowers and lush grasses that supported communities from Neolithic times, who in turn left their traces in fire circles and ring forts.  And near every parking place, each clint is topped with a tiny cairn or sculpture as visitors today still want to leave some trace of their being here, or maybe token of their hoped-for return.

Serendipity and Song — Westport to Doolin

Westport nestles on the far shore of one of Ireland’s great peninsulas, jutting into the Atlantic, with the Mountains of Connemara to the south and the wild coasts of Achill to the north.   Some years ago we camped on Achill Island in late September.  Most Irish campsites close after the first week of September but we found one campsite still open although only one other campervan stopped by in the few days we spent there.  The site had several permanent mobile homes, and despite the 8 foot banks of grass-topped sand that protected the site each was held to the ground with structures of foot-wide girders to hold them down against the force of the Atlantic winds.  We parked close between some of these and as the campervan shook in the night reminded ourselves that these were just mild September breezes, not the wild storms of the winter.

This time I had to set my face south cutting across Connemara to Doolin for the night.  I took the coast road between Croagh Patrick and the sea, passing the car parks and coaches at its foot where the pilgrimage route begins.  Although I’ll forgo the climb on hands and knees of the true pilgrim it would be good to climb it some day for the view and the sense of those who have visited this holy spot for a thousand years.

I do not have a SatNav and somehow at Louisburgh I took the wrong road.  As the road narrowed to single track and then grass began to grow down the centre, I realised my mistake, but assumed it would eventually join up with the main road.  In fact I was driving down a 15 mile cul-de-sac.  Often when I have lost my way in a strange city, I have vowed I would get a SatNav, but now I am glad I have not.  Global communications and perpetual internet offer instant information and allow us to plan every journey with printed Google maps and reviews of each tiny coffee house.  But it would be a Faustian bargain if it were to rob us of the joy of just one unexpected and unplanned mistaken road to paradise.

On the far south west of County Mayo, there is a tiny nick in the coast on the map, and the indistinct line leading to it is this road, skirting the coast, looking out to islands and ocean, and ending at that nick, named like so many other simply White Strand.

Although my feet ever itch to wander, if there were a place to stop for a while and taste the ocean air, this would be it; but with many miles to go, I had just a few minutes to walk among the dunes and check where I was with three lads taking turns on a quad bike across the broad washed sand, before setting on my way again, back along the road I had come and again amazed at the way I had come and the fortune of following a ‘wrong’ path.

Through Connemara and many mountains calling to be climbed and lakes to be sailed; past Galway, the sound of tin whistle and fiddle almost audible even from the European funded ring road that bypasses the town’s old streets; along the coast of Northern Clare with the Burran on the left and sea on the right and on down, over the little bridge to Doolin and Fisher Street.

Fiona and I had camped in Doolin many years before, but we arrived late, the night was wild, and the ground in the campsite down by the harbour more like marsh than grass1.  So we stayed in the van, opened up the roof just far enough to poke out our heads, feel the wild wind whip our hair, and see the waves crash against the feet of the Cliffs of Moher.  So this was the first time I had visited the legendary O’Connors and experienced a session there.

Doolin is a Mecca for traditional music: around the bar several Japanese faces, a lady from South Carolina, and a couple of hitchhikers from Lille meandering their way around the Western Ireland, cooking pasta in a battered saucepan.   Perched on a bar stool, I chatted over dinner with a man who lives just 25 miles away, staying in his caravan overnight, ready for a day visit to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands the next day. He had briefly visited the islands 12 years before, but this time was planning to walk across Inis Mór to Dún Aonghasa, the huge Iron Age fort cut in half by the eroding cliff face. I was reminded of the parable “the wise man built his house upon rock”, but after over 2000 years even the limestone of the Aran Isles is no sure foundation against the buffeting of the North Atlantic waves, that can throw vast boulders up to the cliff tops from the sea 25 metres below.

At 9:30 the music group began to assemble, three men who clearly played together and others invited into the music making, an older man with no instrument who later sang, and others.  It is an inclusive music, with no pretension, Guinness lubricates the beating Bodhrán and pumping accordion, and the old hands play alongside the young.  One couple, maybe students visiting during the summer vacation, looked nervous but were welcomed in and a young boy, maybe 12 or 14 years old, sang and played tin whistle, gradually growing in confidence as the night wore on.

next Last Day — Doolin to Limerick

  1. The campsite was Nagle’s, a great location overlooking the sea, but this time I stayed at Lane Lodge B&B.[back]

Into the West — Larne to Westport

The fastest route to Limerick from Larne is probably due south to Dublin and then across to the West, the route we took as a family when we first visited Ireland together on the weekend of the Good Friday agreement.   At that time, the IRA and Unionist cease-fires had been in operation for several years and the border checkpoints, while still very visible, were not in use.  However, I vividly recall the gradual realisation that the alternating villages we drove through: one prosperous and brightly bedecked with red, blue and white painted kerbstones, followed by one more down at heel with a large church in the middle, were in fact alternating protestant and catholic villages, bringing home so sharply the social as well as political and religious differences.

Whether it is passing time, or simply a different route, but I didn’t notice the extreme differences this time.  However some things don’t change and beside the road, strapped to each lamppost, flap the Union Flag, the flag of St George with the hand of Ulster in the middle and even Scotland’s flag of St Andrew, but never the flag of St Patrick nor, of course, the tricolour1!  Like Norman castles in Wales, masonry also remains, and the heavily armoured police stations contrast so strongly with the bungalow with its ‘Police’ sign in Tiree.

As I had Saturday and Sunday to get to Limerick, rather than driving directly I planned to go to Doolin for the night.  However, not content with this detour, I decided also to go to Westport on the way.  I don’t fully understand this Celtic longing for the western seaboard.  Is it deep in my blood from birth, or borne from stories of the downed cantref beyond Aberdyfy and Tír na nÓg?  It is certainly not America, but somewhere out there in the Atlantic, caught between the wave trammelled coast and the crack in the earth that is the mid-Atlantic ridge, is a path into fairyland and myth that draws at something deep in the heart.

My route south from Larne took me through places that evoked again those childhood memories: Omagh, Antrim, and road signs to others: Enniskillen, Londonderry.  Like South Africa, it seemed so impossible that things could ever change and yet, despite problems still in both, it is a different world; hope still for other parts of the world that today seem equally impossible.

In those days there would have been check-points at the border, but travelling now I never even noticed a sign to say when I crossed from Northern Ireland to Eire.  However, as I drove through Ballyshannon I had no doubts that I was in the South: bright coloured shop fronts and ramshackle road signs, a country whose spirit is far more like southern Europe, than the cooler Northern blood that often mistakes tidiness for godliness — what happened to the hot fire that flowed through the veins of Visgoth and Viking?

I would have loved to have more time to stop along the way, camp on Boa Island at the top of Loch Erne looking out at the hills that tumble into the water across the Loch, or climbing Benbulben that, while gentler from the West and South, to the North rises square faced and square sided like a wooden-block mountain in child’s counterpane landscape. However, I did not stop and drove on towards the West, through the thick traffic near Sligo, and on into the County Mayo countryside.  It would have been good to stop and stare, to spend time savouring each place; and given time I would do so, but with limited time I always choose to move rather than stay, to feel the miles flow past whether by foot or car.  Like the thirst for the western shore, the itinerant spirit runs deep in my heart, and as a child I dreamed of being a gypsy or a tramp, living along the paths of the land.

next Serendipity and Song — Westport to Doolin

  1. To be fair south of the border tourist shops accept payment in euro or US dollars, but not pounds (not even Scottish pounds), and on flag poles fly the flags of Ireland, the EU, USA, France, Germany, Italy … but never the UK.[back]

Roads of the Sea — Tiree to Larne

Friday morning at 9am saw me at the ferry queue in Scarinish waiting for the Tiree–Oban ferry, saying goodbye to Fiona and to Tiree as I won’t be home again for most of the next two months.  Friday is an early ferry — 5am check-in for those coming from Oban, but a more civilised time for going to the mainland and a 1pm arrival gives plenty of time to get down to Troon for the 8:20pm ferry.

I’ve never taken the Troon–Larne ferry before, always travelling to Ireland from Stranraer in the North or Holyhead in the South.  However, arriving with a full three hours to spare, I found it is a good place to wait, eating a late picnic lunch of pork pie and salad overlooking the bay with windsurfers and kite surfers along the strand, home from home.

Long distance ‘commutes’ and remote relationships have become common amongst professional workers.  I recall Richard Bentley at one stage working in Germany while his partner was in Jersey, and in the States several West-Coast East-Coast marriages.  However, this is not a recent phenomena, on Tiree there are families of trawler men or those working on the North Sea rigs, where ‘going to work’ means many weeks or months away.  The ‘Express’  Troon–Larne ferry fairly sped along compared with Calmac’s more leisurely vessels, and as I sat and watched us pass Ailsa Craig, struck up conversation with a man on his way home to his wife and family after three months away doing forestry work in Scotland.

Larne, like Crewe, is a place you pass through and rarely stop, but given the late ferry I ended up spending a night there in a small seafront guesthouse, Beach Vista.  The late arrival of the ferry was compounded by a wrong turning1, but despite the late hour Bob the proprietor was waiting with a warm welcome in a rich Northern accent. My childhood images of Northern Ireland are all from news stories of ‘The Troubles’; amidst these images of sectarian violence and bomb blasts, it is easy to forget the warmth of the people and the beauty of the countryside. So I spent a first peaceful night, hearing the sound of the waves lapping against the sea wall.

Walking along the seashore before breakfast, watching a freight ship glide quietly into port past the James Chaine memorial tower, I understood some of Bob’s love of the place.  “Sometimes when my wife and I go away on holiday”, he told me, “we sometimes just wonder why, when we have this at home”.  Despite being less than an hour from Belfast, the pace of life is clearly somewhat slower in Larne.  Bob, as well as running the B&B with his family, also has a Taxi firm, and explained that, just like on Tiree, he doesn’t worry about locking the taxi and even leaving the keys inside.

next Into the West — Larne to Westport

  1. why can’t Google maps include a scale on the printed maps![back]

hidden Rome

I know Rome well, but I still see new things every time I visit, and sometimes the old things from a different angle, or perhaps from some of the lesser trod ways.

A week ago I was there for the AVI conference and some other events (see previous post).  I am not a city lover preferring wild places, the sea, hills and margins of existence.  However, Rome is different, partly because I was introduced to Rome by Romans (of the modern variety), and saw it through their eyes, but partly because it is a city itself on the margins of civilisation and decay.  I would not have liked ancient Rome with its bureaucracy and mannered civil life, but this Rome we have now, that survived the Visigoths, flowered in the Renaissance, then struggled through war and invasion from the outside, and internal conflicts from within, where ancient buildings and bustling modern  life sit side by side, where humanity is dense, but nature always nestling in the interstices, and ready to reassert itself.  That is beautiful.

A week ago on Saturday I had a ‘day off’, a gap between the end of the AVI conference on the Friday and travelling to Milan on the Sunday.  It had been a good week, not just from an academic point of view, but also seeing old friends both in the conference and outside, including a lovely meal at the lake near Castello Gandalfi with Roberta, Manuela, Francesco and others.

Of course an academic day off has its own meaning, and I had a relaxed breakfast on the roof terrace looking out over the roof tops to the Colloseum … while reading papers to review.  Then after retiring to my room for some hours to type of the reviews, wandered across to the Trastevere, where there are the best pizzas, to of course review some more papers over lunch, then wandering as far as an Internet cafe near the Ponte Sisto to upload it all.  However, at 5pm I eventually laid aside my computer and decided it was time to just wander!

One of my favourite walks in Rome is to start at the north in Piazza del Popolo and then wander south towards Piazza Venezia.  So many familiar sights not far either side of that axis.  From Ponto Sisto a meandering way through backstreets led through Piazza Campo de Fiori, and Piazza Novona, past the Pantheon and Piazza Colonna on to Via del Corsa up towards the Piazza del Popolo.  In Campo de Fiori I found that it looked very different when viewed from behind the flower stands, and just off Via del Corso an American Indian encampment.

From Piazza del Popolo, the most obvious route is straight down Via del Babuino towards the Piazza di Spagna.  However, last year Manuela and Francesco introduced me to the Via Margutta, which runs parallel and set back from bustling Babuino.  At the time it was itself quite full as it was the annual street exhibition of 100 Painters, but last week, only yards from the tourist and traffic filled streets, a small oasis with just the odd Italian wandering past its old houses, small galleries and tumbling greenery.

From there back onto the main thoroughfares, through Piazza di Spagnia, and the flower filled steps still seem lovely despite the tourists and crowds, although also special if you visit them early in the morning, as I did a few years ago, when they are empty all bar a few bin bags awaiting collection.

Fontana di Trevi is as in every guidebook, splendid, glorious, and actually bigger than it looks in pictures.  The small square containing the  fountain is always awash with people.  However, imagine standing facing the fountain and then turnaround, facing away from the statues, the flowing water, the postcard and trinket sellers.  Away to your right is a tiny alleyway, vicolo del Forno.  It is too small to be named on most maps, it goes nowhere and consequently I had never turned into it before.

The narrow opening part shielded by the roast chestnut seller cuts out much of the noise, and its unprepossessing appearance puts off any visitors. But, I was not the first person to wander in.  A short way within is small side window to a shop, covered with wrought iron crossbars from the days before toughened glass and security alarms.  On each bar there were tiny padlocks, and on the padlocks more padlocks, tumbling from one another, like rock plants growing from walls.  Each padlock had names written on them, love trysts.

When I asked afterwards, Roberta told me there was a bridge Ponte Milvio, which, after a famous film popularised the idea, is so heavily hung with padlocks like this that it damaged some of the ironwork.  Lovers affix the padlock then throw the key into the Tiber symbolising unbreakable love. Looking now on the web I can see that these love padlocks are found at sites all over the world, even in Glasgow. I assume Fontana di Trevi is filling with small keys alongside the more numerous coins.  However, unlike the very public display at Ponte Milvio, this small alley is so well hidden that perhaps only those seeking a secluded embrace away from the crowds find it; certainly Roberta, a native Roman, did not know it existed.

Now charmed by the out of the way, I decided to abandon my normal route back to via Corso and on to Piazza Venezia and instead took roads going south, slightly to the east of Corso, but not so far as the route up to the Quirinale.  This led me to Via Pilotta, a glorious small road, like a chasm with tall buildings to the right and a high retaining wall to the left with the hints of a garden beyond peeking over its top.  Like a river canyon it is also spanned by numerous small bridges, presumably allowing those in the houses to the right to get to the forbidden gardens to the left without descending to the street and rabble below.

On Pilotta there is a single ristorante Le Lanterne, a perfect place to sit as the light fades on Rome … and even here it is the hidden places that are perhaps most special.

Good Friday

Here are two writings from several years ago, one written on Good Friday, the other about it.  My father was a carpenter and this has always made some aspects of the life of the Galilean carpenter particularly close to my heart.

One is a  ‘Good Friday journal‘ web page (life before blogs), a meditation about nails and even a tips on what to do if a nail bends.

Being the son of a carpenter I was fascinated looking at the nail realising how much went into the design of each one. …

So much detail, such care, such knowledge built into something bought and used in hundreds of thousands each day.

Perhaps this is true of people too, six billion, teaming and crowding over distant lands …

more …

The second is a poem about “the carpenter“, written the same Easter:

… I do remember
hands reaching out
finding themselves for the first time
seizing the air
holding nothing
until touching, holding, the hard edge of wood

more …

Apple’s Model-View-Controller is Seeheim

Just reading the iPhone Cocoa developer docs and its description of Model-View-Controller. However, if you look at the diagram rather than the model component directly notifying the view of changes as in classic MVC, in Cocoa the controller acts as mediator, more like the Dialogue component in the Seeheim architecture1 or the Control component in PAC.

MVC from Mac Cocoa development docs

The docs describing the Cocoa MVC design pattern in more detail in fact do a detailed comparison with the Smalltalk MVC, but do not refer to Seeheim or PAC, I guess because they are less well known now-a-days.  Only a few weeks ago when discussing architecture with my students, I described Seeheim as being more a conceptual architecture and not used in actual implementations now.  I will have to update my lectures – Seeheim lives!

  1. Shocked to find no real web documentation for Seeheim, not even on Wikipedia; looks like CS memory is short.  However, it is described in chapter 8 of the HCI book and in the chapter 8 slides[back]