It wasn’t better in the ‘old days’

No-one can deny that there has been a tremendous leap in technology in the last 2 decades and this was brought home to me quite strongly during a couple of recent conversations. In both cases we were talking about a place and the impression it had made. In both cases, the mobile phone came out and I was shown a video or picture of the location. In the past, this might have entailed a trip to the attic where photos were stored, and certainly you wouldn’t be able to show your colour prints if you were dining out!

What really struck me about this was that it has become commonplace to share personal photos in this way, and that this has happened over a relatively short period of time. I can foresee a near future when you will be invited into a holographic representation of someone’s holiday snaps!

As part of the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder series, they showed the 1997 film Contact. It was introduced by Adam Rutherford and Brian Cox and the context they gave the film made it an interesting experience. They discussed the Arecibo message that was sent out into space in 1974 telling anyone in the universe who wanted to listen that we are here. They had a slide of the message on the screen behind them and it was interesting how relatively simple it was (including a DNA strand, numbers and a representation of the human form). I’m sure this was just one part of it, and other messages have gone out since with slightly different content, but the universal content (mathematics and the building blocks of the universe) remain constant. Two things I took away from this discussion:

•We are now able to identify whether a planet has life by investigating its atmosphere. It’s one thing to find the essential elements to support life, but if you find CFCs (or something similar), you know that a technological civilisation has existed
•We aren’t consistently listening for anyone who might be answering us so we could have missed contact

However, the consensus was that it is unlikely that there is intelligent life out there – but then there was that unexplained 3 minute burst of radio noise in the 70s – on the frequency they think is the most likely for us to make contact …..

Getting older – poetic and pragmatic

“Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety” Anthony and Cleopatra, Willliam Shakespeare

“I would rather wear out than rust out” Dolly Parton

No more to be said, really.

Lady in the Water – nice little film

Occasionally I come across a film that is an unexpected and unlauded gem – and ‘Lady in the Water’ is one of them. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, I should have been prepared for something a little different. The synopsis sounded like an upmarket ‘Splash’ with a man finding a strange woman in a pool, but all similarities ended there. There was no romance, lots of mistakes and a strangely redemptive ending. A fairy tale brought into the modern world in a very convincing yet mundane way.

Olympic Surprise

Well, something I never thought would happen – I am actually sorry that the Olympics are coming to an end! London has been like another town with people looking happy in the official 2012 pink T Shirts and everyone talking to each other. Walking down Whitehall was an experience during the Beach Volleyball first week. You could hear the cheers streets away from morning to night and the crowd sounded like they were having the time of their lives. It was totally unexpected and surprisingly amazing. Not to mention the number of medals – shows what lottery money and a home advantage can do.

I popped up to see the triathalon – or at least the cycling section – around Buckingham Palace, but was too late. There was still a sense of euphoria though, and at least one chap posing with a flag

Prometheus – 3D – not sure….

Watching Prometheus, the new Alien prequel, in 3D was not as immersive experience as I has expected. It is the first 3D movie I have seen and I think I was expecting to be part of the action, or to have elements of the screen coming out to meet me in my seat. This sort of happened, but every time it did, I was aware of it so it kept reminding me that I was watching a film. I don’t think this was the desired effect – I also felt vaguely nauseous, which didn’t help.

The film itself was OK – the set design was impressive and there was an attempt to give it some philosophical depth, but it didn’t quite live up to it’s own aspirations. A good film, but not the hoped for great one.

Telling stories through holiday snaps

There are a few photos I took which remind me of something I learnt or appreciated about Cuba. They may not be great pictures, but they tell me a personal story. This shop window is a case in point. I had been told that there are no advertising hoardings in Cuba – which is true – with the exception of ‘inspirational’ slogans on billboards all over the country. Perhaps as a result, shop windows were pretty basic – with an eclectic mix of products, none of which were displayed in a particularly enticing fashion. This was a noticeable exception – with unexpected products. Who knew household cleaning aids could be used to dress a shop window with such brio?

And here is another example of an unusual use of an everyday product. Look closely and you will see that it is a combination of a blanket and a towel, twisted to look like a man holding a baby. Most of the hotels we stayed in had chambermaids who practiced ‘towel art’ with swans, fans and weird towers – but this was by far the most creepy. We were almost afraid to undo it.

And finally, because I was told it was almost a trademark of Cuba we have the 1960’s ‘old timers’. For us, they are classics – for the Cubans, who only recently have been allowed to sell them, they are an essential part of their transport system.

Castro’s camp in the mountains

I’ve visited lots of castles and military posts in my time, but nothing quite like Castro’s guerilla camp. We had to drive for many hours to get there and stayed overnight in a basic but charming hotel where the rooms were self contained huts in the middle of the mountains. We were treated to torrential rain and a spectacular lightening storm as we ate in a covered verandah. It was amazing.

The following day we walked to the camp and it made it very clear how they were able to hide – it is quite remote and would have been well hidden before trees were cut down to make it more accessible. There was a ladder leading up to a false entry for Castro’s headquarters which could be collapsed if an enemy tried to enter. The real entry was a false wall which opened, garage door like, to let you in. There was a secret escape tunnel in the floor in case of attack. Accommodation was quite basic, but still livable and what struck me was the fact the there was segregation between officers and men – living and eating. Castro’s bed was obviously built on the spot, but I did wonder how they managed to get the fridge up there without it being noticed!

A challenging holiday

I recently went to Cuba and had a holiday that I won’t quickly forget – largely because it challenged some of my preconceptions. I guess I expected some sort of yoke of tyranny – but Fidel Castro appears to genuinely have stepped down while Raul Castro appears to be slowly trying to modernise the country. People are now able to start up private enterprises and you can see the pride that they have in their endeavours. We discovered a small restaurant – essentially the front room of a house – where the family had recently set up their own business.
They were absolutely shocked when we walked in – I think it was probably the biggest group they had catered for. The father had handed us the card for the restaurant in the street and the son ran the restaurant and did some rather good magic tricks at the end of the meal. The food was good, the atmosphere brilliant and the father and granddaughter walked us back to our hotel afterwards to be sure we got there safely. Of course there was the obligatory band in the doorway, playing ‘Guantanamera’ but somehow that added to the charm.

We take our private enterprise rights for granted – it is chastening to see how important it is to those who previously haven’t had that freedom.

A library in your pocket

My current method of tidying up is to put all the stuff that I can’t yet find a place for in a spare bedroom prior to either discarding it or ‘storing’ it in the attic. In the attic I have 3 large crates of books which haven’t seen the light of day for at least 5 years. I know I will never throw them away – whatever else goes, I love shelves of books. Which leaves me in a quandary because I am now carrying a library in my handbag. The kindle is a marvellous gadget and means that I am never without something to read – but I no longer have the visible book to pick up and love. Am I happy to swap the paper copies for the convenience of a gadget? You bet I am – it will give me so much more physical space for other things, although I will still keep my existing physical library – it’s nice to look at. It just won’t get much bigger. Unfortunately I am just as bad at discarding e-books as I am at paper ones -it’s just as well that there is plenty of virtual space.