Category Archives: things of beauty

Deutsches Museum

On an island in the middle of the River Isar in Munich is one of the greatest museums in the world. I can say that advisedly. The Deutsches Museum on Museum Island is overwhelming.

It is one of the earliest museums of science and technology in the world, and, I am told, if you were to walk every exhibit, you would walk more than 17km.

In truth, what happens is you walk into the first section, which is full of boats and model boats, you get knocked backwards, and never really recover. They have a terrific aviation section. They have an amazing aeronautical section. They have a mindblowing collection of clocks and weights and balances. They have every sort of textile weaving system. Every sort of printing press that you can imagine. Every sort of ceramic you can imagine. A terrific model railway. A terrific collection of keyboard instruments.

They have holograms.

Most importantly, they have 2 Enigma and one Lorenz cipher machine, plus a bunch of other cipher machines. And an IBM 360 with a punch card reader. Every sort of adding machine and calculus machine or analogue calculator that you can imagine.

The entry fee is eight euro fifty. It is worth every cent and you will come out a complete wreck having not seen everything.

Journeys in language

Amongst the many things I don’t currently own, or at least, did not own up to a very recent point in time, was an English dictionary. This was a bit of a lack in my life; I own a two volume Finnish dictionary set, two German dictionaries (although one of them I don’t really need as it’s been superceded by the other one) and a recent-ish edition of the large Collins Robert in French. Somewhere at my parents place is a 20 year old anniversary edition Wahrig and a Petit Robert also around 20 years old. I haven’t been able to find them of late so no idea where they are hiding; they may have gotten lost in one of my own personal house moves.

Mostly, when I find myself wanting to look up a word, I turn to one of the online dictionaries. The experience tends to leave me somewhat dissatisfied. The online interfaces for dictionaries (in my limited experience) tend to be less than welcoming, and they do not tend to set off the random exploration a print dictionary does. It had occurred to me that a good English dictionary, preferably more or less matching my large bilingual French and German ones for the purposes of shelf esthetics would be a good purchase. I had Christmas vouchers.

And Easons in Swords had something of interest.

Buying dictionaries is a hassle these days. Mostly, if you find dictionaries, you find what I call school dictionaries. They are about 5 inches by 7 and they lack the gravitas of a big dictionary. Dictionaries are serious reference works. They should be heavy and big and not blending into the rest of the books on your bookshelf. I have not wanted a very concise dictionary – but something a little more austere. What I now own is a copy of Collins Dictionary of the English Language, The Language Lover’s Dictionary. It is a beautiful looking wordbook. It includes more than 200 essays on language and beside me, the book has fallen open on A Brief History of Literature, part 1.

Next to it is a page containing definitions of words starting with the letter B. New to me today is the word bascule. This, apparently, is a drawbridge that operates by a counterbalanced weight.

On page 361, there is a brief essay on the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. It falls next to a page of mostly hyphenated words starting with the word “half”. I know all of them.

Falling open on page 593, we encounter a page of Words from Shakespeare, part 14. How can you not love such a book? Page 825 has an extraordinary asset. It is part 8 of the list of three letter words acceptable in a game of Scrabble. This tells you something very useful: it is that there are a lot of three letter words you do not know. But the Scrabble game on your mobile phone certainly does, and it uses them to beat you.

Page 409 has an essay on West Country Dialect. For those of us who do not live in the United Kingdom, this is the area around Somerset, and moving south and southwest through Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Wiltshire. Page 425 covers Yiddish English. This is a mere taste of the range of language related essays to be found in this dictionary and they are all listed at the front of the dictionary for anyone who may care to dip in and out of the pearls to be found in its depths.

In addition, there is a brief overview of the background of each letter in the English alphabet and various uses of them aside from as building blocks for spelling words. This book, in many respects, is more than just a dictionary…it is a journey through the English language taken from many starting points.

The edition I have is the 2010 edition. I am mightily pleased with it.

 

review: 849 popline, turquoise

I have been a user of Caran D’Ache ballpoint pens since I was 16 years old. This is more than 20 years.  Fact.

Most of the pens I own are from their Ecridor Range which costs around 110E for a ball point here. However, they have an entry level range Office line with a large number of options in the 849 line. They are the same shape as the Ecridors – hexagonal – but are constructed from lighter materials.

I own a few of them.

A recent addition to the Popline colour range in the office line is turquoise and as it’s my favourite colour. You can see all the 849 options here.  The 849 range of ballpoints all take the Goliath refill which has a very long life (speaking from experience here).

You can tell the pen is lighter than the Ecridor pens but it is beautifully balanced in my hand. I love the colour. I love the fact that the pen feels almost indestructable. And it writes like a dream.

I love it.

Living in the Future

Last Saturday, Youtube celebrated its 10th birthday. We’ll skip the whole Valentine’s Day and move swiftly onwards to what Youtube means to me.

Youtube is the future writ large. Right now, if I want, I can watch pretty much any figure skating competitive performance from about the last 30 years by means of a simple search on Youtube. I watched the 1988 Olympic figure skating championships through a haze of static. If you told me when I was 15 years old that less than 30 years later, I’d be able to watch all that stuff, on demand, pretty much for free, I’d have looked at you as though you were completely made. At the time, Ireland had all of 2 official channels and okay, so there was multichannel of a sort…

The idea you could sit in front of a screen and choose what you wanted to watch rather than what the controller of RTE One was up for, well that was the stuff of dreams. It Is Never Going To Happen.

It did.

It’s not just the figure skating of course. It’s all the concerts of classical music, the videos by bands that you can watch ANY TIME YOU LIKE and not just between 7.30 and 8 on a Thursday evening, when Top of the Pops was on. It’s all the stuff that I’d never heard about much like Jon Stewart and John Oliver. Seriously, can we have John Oliver over here please? I watched Neil Finn and Paul Kelly live from Sydney Opera House early one morning. Live from Sydney, in a dining room in Dublin.

And it’s not just all those 1980s pop bands I’d forgotten, or bits of Bosco and Fortycoats. Or classic clips from various talk shows. Or clips out of Dara O’Briain shows.

Youtube is full of educational stuff. A lot of the Khan stuff turned up there first; there are any number of university lectures up there. People sit in their dining rooms and write and present Photoshop tutorials. SOmeone in Spain carefully put together three “how to do bobbin lace” videos. If there is a craft you want to try, someone, somewhere, has made a video showing you how to get started. You want to write programming code? What language? Someone’s done it.

You want to see a review of someone unpacking a new gadget? Name your gadget. Someone somewhere has made a video of the box opening of whatever your favourite newest mobile phone is. You want to learn how to draw or paint? Take your choice. There must be a million trillion art videos on Youtube. You want to see a review of some other product like, oh various different types of fountain pens or water colour paints? Someone has done it. You want to see a cute video of a 4 year old singing the song from Frozen? Every single parent of a 4 year old has made it available on youtube.

You want to see planes doing weird landings in high winds? Youtube. You want to see the sheet music of an obscure piano concerto while someone plays the recording? Youtube.

You want to see what it’s like to surf the tube of a wave? Youtube.

You want a first person experience down a high ski jump? Youtube.

You want to see classic 1980s ads involving frying eggs on a rock if you only had a rock? Youtube.

Youtube is the sort of future I never imagined and it’s hear. It’s amazing. When I talk about the future, I remember that thanks to Youtube, I’m living in the sort of future I couldn’t conceive 30 years ago.

shop review: Casi One, Brussels

Way back in the mists of time, I bought a Caran D’Ache Ecridor in a stationery shop which stuck in my memory by location, rather than by name. It may have been a Prisma (which you cannot currently get by the way). The location was pretty much “down that street off Place Debrouckere, parallel to Rue Neuve, but not Boulevard Anspach. This is how I remembered it anyway; a little more scraping my memory would have revealed that it’s Boulevard Adolphe Max. It’s where Waterstones used to be. Not sure if it still is.

Anyway, sometime before I finished in UCD I had to give a run over to Brussels, and between the meetings I went for, and the plane rides there and back, I went back into the stationery shop which, after 15 years, was still there. I like that sort of continuity in shops – you see it in Dublin with the Pen Corner as well. I bought another Caran D’Ache there, a limited edition pink one designed by Claudio Colucci. I liked the colours.

Casi One is a wonderful stationery store. They have every mechanical pencil I want, a decent range of Clairefontaine paper; lots of other things that I crave. I draw from time to time (this is not something that I broadcast much) and after a lot of failures, I’ve settled on water colour pencils as my tool of choice. They have all the collection sets of Caran D’Ache Supracolor II pencils. They look gorgeous; I stood in front of the window display with a deep wish I could buy all the stuff.

I haven’t been in Casi One much in since I left Brussels, mostly because I haven’t been in Brussels much since I left Brussels. On the last occasion I was there, they remembered me from the previous time, which was about 9 months previously. I have found them immensely helpful but also, very happy to leave me browsing around their wonderland. I love the Pen Corner in Dublin but it’s a toss up as to whether I prefer it to Casi One or not.

waterbaby

I started back at the swimming again  today. That again is quite telling. It tells you I have been swimming on several well spaced apart occasions in the last indistinct period. I’m back at my old haunt, DCU Sports Club mainly because a) it’s the closest pool to me (just about, Ballymun isn’t too far off either) and more importantly, they have a very decent deal for alumni which has seen me chop more than 60% off the cost of gym membership. Against that, I don’t have regular access to climbing walls any more but I figured that was a suitable sacrifice to make in the face of starting back at the swimming.

I’ve been a member of a number of gyms with swimming pools (swimming pools are deal breakers for me; if you don’t have one, and preferably, one that’s at least 25m long, we’re not going anywhere), and of all of the, DCU’s is probably the most windsandbreezes friendly. Provided I don’t get lost looking for the carpark. Yes, UCD’s new 50m pool is beautiful, but it’s not a great place for me to start back at the swimming. And yes, I’ve had NAC membership (somehow never quite got into the habit of going to Blanchardstown), and yes, I’ve had ALSAA and Westwood membership. Westwood had a climbing wall and a fairly decent swimming pool.

But for some reason, I prefer DCU. The last time I was regularly swimming in DCU, I used to go three to four times a week after work. It seemed easy (although it pretty much predated Twitter, Facebook and 1.4 million other online distractions) to fit into my life and by the time I stopped going, I was doing 1600m each time. It’s probably the fittest I ever was. I miss that. Why I never got it working at any of the other pools, well Blanch’s outofthewayness aside, I don’t know.

Today, it was lovely, if evidence of the mountain I must climb. 225m is a long way short of 1600m. I don’t think it will be as hard this time though because the main reason I didn’t do more was the sudden arrival of Children. Lots of Children.

At this point, I would like to apologise to Sunday morning regulars at Tipperary Swimming Pool whom I probably terrorised in the same way at the age of 10. The pool isn’t the same when it’s not almost completely empty.

Anyway. While I’d probably have gotten more than 225 done, the truth is I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near 1600 so I’m not going to crib too much. I did find the conversation between the other two in the jacuzzi somewhat surreal given that it covered the economic and political differences between Russia and the West, with special mention of political leanings in the UK, all in German.

Still, this is why we go there; to improve mind and body.

So you want to make bobbin lace

Every once in a while I will get it into my head to try something new, or something at least once. This has seen me try cable skiing, cross country skiing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, driving racing cars (once), driving karts, whitewater rafting, crochet, knitting, tapestry and building websites using WordPress.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been looking at the options involved in bobbin lace. This is not straightforward for rather dumb reasons. You cannot walk into a shop in Dublin (or if you can, I haven’t found it), peruse bobbins and bobbin lace making gear and do the instant gratification thing. So I bought my first bobbins at the Knitting and Stitching show a couple of years ago. I managed to buy six members’ bobbins from the Guild of Lacemakers who had come over from the UK to exhibit.

Since then, I eventually bought another bunch of bobbins in a tiny shop in Santiago de Compostela, along with 4 useful looking pins about a year ago. In the meantime, all sorts of interesting things have happened in my life. I acquired some useful looking aeroboard and then settled down to perusing the internet looking for Guidance.

At this point, a little diversion to a period in my life ten years ago when I started doing crochet and found it difficult to a) find patterns b) hooks c) fine thread. Hard and all as that was – and it has changed big time in the intervening years – it is nothing compared to the research required in trying to figure out what to do here.

There are minimal and unclear lessons in English on Youtube. Seriously. Youtube has everything on it but in English, the whole lace bobbin thing is unclear. If you want to learn how to do the lace stitches from the internet, in English (I keep banging on about the English here for a point), you really need to look at this site. Jo Edkins’ Lace School. The site was built in 2002 and is styled accordingly but in terms of the resources on it, it is second to none which I have found thus far on this journey. She also has two books available on Kindle. I will get them because I live in fear and terror at this stage that her website might disappear.

In terms of getting useful stuff out of the School of Youtube, you need to swallow your guts and dive into the world of videos not in English. It’s not completely scary but I recommend that you at least learn cloth stitch from Jo Edkin’s site first and then, here are the terms you need to learn:

  • tombolo
  • bolillo
  • fuseaux

These are the terms for bobbins in Italian, Spanish and French respectively. Bolillo also seems to refer to some sort of bread roll as well. It is worth searching for videos to watch even if you don’t understand them, just to get a feel for things.

Anyway, I finally got my act together and found Jo Edkins’ site yesterday. This was result number 3:

Some yellow thread, bobbins and cheap pins
Treasa’s third effort making lace learning from the internet

I’ve learned a lot over the last few days.

  1. I find the spangle jewelly things on the end of the English bobbins useful because the bobbins themselves are a touch on the dainty side.
  2. I like my Spanish bobbins more, possibly because my hands, although soft and light on the keys of a 1882 Bechstein grand piano are still lacking in the daintiness and stuff.
  3. Faking the whole work cushion thing using decent aeroboard works but I advise against aeroboard that is more than about 3 cm deep.
  4. Those pins are too thin. However, in my defence I was kind of limited in terms of what was available yesterday at 4.30 when I couldn’t find the box Which Has Vanished.
  5. Having watched a lot of Italian youtube videos (tombolo) I’ve decided I don’t really like the Italian bobbins either.
  6. Finding supplies is hard work. This matters because I don’t know if I can go with the whole aeroboard thing for much longer (certainly on the aeroboard I have at the moment anyway) and I do want some sort of a lacemaking pillow. But I also need it to fit into my life.

And so, another journey starts.

Museum of Musical Instruments

I lived in Brussels until 1999 and at the time that I left it, it suffered from quite a lot of dereliction. I was back there in Decemer 2012 and it was still, in many respects, quite grey. The fact that it was winter probably didn’t hugely help there though.

However, I was there last week and obviously, in summer, the sun was shining and it was a bright and dressed up city. Quite a lot of the dereliction has been cleaned up; they have retained a lot of the building frontage so that renovated buildings still retain what are often beautiful art deco exteriors. I’d forgotten some of the more beautiful parts of town as well.

One building which really is worth a trip – particularly if you are a musician – is the Museum of Musical Instruments. The collection has been building up over time; there is a very fine collection of traditional instruments from across the world, including sets of pipes which I did not know existed, for example. They have a phenomenal collection of European stringed instruments and every variety of a violin which you did not know existed. When I was there, they also had a significant exhibition of the instruments of Adolph Sax.

The building it is housed in was completely derelict when I left Brussels. It was built at the end of the 19th century for a chain of department stories called Old England. I’m not fully au fait with the commercial history of the company but the shop was long past to history by the time I arrived in Brussels more than 15 years ago. It was an iron built building.

The interior has a lot in common with multistory department stories of the time (the old Samaritaine building Paris was not dissimilar for example) and there is, in addition to the musical instrument collection a rather interesting exhibition on the subject of the building as well.

All in all, I really enjoyed the trip in there so am glad to have gone and I would recommend it pretty much to anyone in the vicinity.

France Musique – Nocturne

I’m ashamed – in some respects – to say that I don’t listen to RTE Radio much lately. There are probably some moments of joy but Lyric FM took the joy out of my heart when they gave Marty Whelan the morning slot.

For various reasons, I found myself a) regularly on buses for a while and b) in a need to brush up on my French and German. I turned to podcasts to do it. And then I escaped the buses but I’ve been left with a couple of podcasts which…well they’re worth holding on to.

Nocturne is a programme broadcast on France Musique in the middle of the night. It’s typically a 2 hour show, and it consists primarily of complete works. The first one I listened to play the complete Kinderszenen by Schumann and I was hooked. The next one, which I listened to through my headset in UCD played the Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams. It’s quite extraordinary in the middle of the library at UCD when the world around you is more or less quiet (except for the muttered conversations, the Windows machines starting up, the mobiles whirring into life because people forgot to switch them to silent and the ongoing tap tap tap of the Facebook messaging people). For a few minutes, the world fades into the background.

There are no ads. The presenters – which vary from program to program – say a little about each piece – today I am listening to the complete album of the sound track for the film Black Gold and it was introduced with a brief discussion about James Horner’s work for Jean-Jacques Annaud, and how he took a low fee for this particular film because it offered certain opportunities in terms of who Horner could work with; and how, in the view of the presenter, it was probably the weakest of the three scores Horner had done for Annaud. The other two were Enemy at the Gates and The Name of the Rose.

But there isn’t much discussion otherwise. It’s pretty much wall to wall music and sometimes it is utterly gorgeous and other times, well you skip onto the next one.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes if you are so inclined, or also, I believe, via the France Musique website. If you like classical music with the occasional bit of jazz and blues, it’s a wonderful two hours to have in the background of your life.

The Black Valley in the snow

Back earlier in the year, Peter Cox was posting photographs to his twitter feed of shots he had taken when there was a particular quantity of snow in Kerry and I promised myself then that at some stage this year, I would make my way to his gallery and buy myself one of those prints. I don’t really like buying prints over the internet – I like to actually see and respond to them first. But I did love his snow photographs.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to drop into his gallery in Killarney and look at his photographs. It is a gorgeous gallery of photography, beautifully lit, and with some stunning photographs. He has a gorgeous one of the Fastnet, and some lovely photographs of the area around Killarney, and Iceland and various other places he has been.

I eventually chose to buy this photograph although there was one other that I thought I would prefer in the flesh, so as to speak which I may yet purchase in the future. When I have a house and walls to hang these things on.

If you’re in Killarney, I strongly, strongly recommend you take a look in at Peter’s gallery – it’s in the middle of the town and you can’t really miss it. Ireland is a much photographed country. I’m not going to say we are fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world because in my experience, outside the cities, most parts of the world are inherently beautiful. A lot of cities are as well but from a scenery point of view, nature always has something to give. Peter’s photographs of the southwest are amongst the best I have seen.