Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Gare du Nord, Paris

The Eurostar terminal in Gare du Nord does not befit the train service provided. Once one gets through the security and immigration (French and British), the cramped space undermines the simplicity of train travel vis-a-vis air travel. Too many shops, not enough tranquil space to sit and wait. And if the service is disrupted, as it was last weekend, the crampness really begins to generate disquiet. The terminal in London is dreamlike by comparison. Nicely designed, comfortable and easy to negotiate.

Hotel room design

All hotels have their peculiarities. the Concorde Hotel in Montparnasse, Paris, particularly so. I have no overall complaints, but the bathroom washbasin was unnecessarily unfit for purpose. First of all it was small even though the bathroom itself was large (so, no need to make it small). The smallness was made all the worse by the mixer tap that hung over it denying access to the water to only the smallest of receptacles. Moreover, there was no plug. This made shaving difficult necessitating an excessive use of water.

My question is simple. What informed the design of this most basic of bathroom features? Why is it so wrong?

Paris, 14 April 2012

Foyer of Pompidou Centre

The Pompidou Centre contrasts very nicely with the Louvre. It is brash, loud, bright with a somewhat different clientele. It is open later – on Saturday’s the gallery at the top (where until next month the Matisse paintings can be found) is open until 2300). We managed only to get to the 3rd floor which houses the permanent painting collection up to the mid-1970s. There one finds a wealth of Picasso, Ernst, Miro, Kandinsky and even Pollock.It is vast, with each theme explored in small versatile cubicles. There are lots of little alleys each displaying surprises and examples of the moving image from the period, too. Statues adorn the many terraces (unfortunately so do the smokers).

Terrace, Pompidou Centre

The staff are also extremely knowledgeable and friendly. For example, when viewing the delightful piece by Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Le Chat, we learned about his brother and their involvement in WWI.


Paris, 13 April 2012

Louvre entrance area

One objective for this trip was to go to the Louvre. My two previous trips have either been too busy or the weather has seemed to be too nice to go inside. This time in we went on a Friday, mid-afternoon. The Louvre is open until 2130 on Fridays, so by mid afternoon it is a little quieter, but only a little. The main entrance area under the Pyramid is heaving.

The Denon Wing houses the Italian and Spanish paintings from the 15th and 16th Centuries. This includes the Mona Lisa and many other masterpieces. It is a tough wing to explore. The paintings are sometimes 3 high and the lighting hardly ideal especially if one’s eyesight is as poor as mine becomes.

The Mona Lisa is appropriately displayed in the middle of a large room. There are a lot of people trying to get to see her, made all the more difficult by the fact that the painting is so small. In Leonardo terms, we should be grateful that he finished the painting and it survives. The other Leonardo painting in the Louvre – The Lady from the Court in Milan, La Belle Ferronnaire – had no visitors when we passed by. Though it may be that it was actually done by an apprentice. Equally beguiling, from my own untrained eye.

Constable's Weymouth Bay

The gallery containing the Italian and Spanish art is long, very long. Right at the bottom, unexpectedly, one finds a small English enclave. There are two Constables nestling there. I took a picture of Weymouth Bay whilst no one was looking.

Paris,12 April 2012

Paris in the Spring has a lot to recommend it. I’m staying in Montparnasse, a district to the south of the Seine. It is full of boutiques, cafes and theatres. The cemetery is packed full of the dead famous and not so famous but rich. The grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir is suitably spartan. Visitors here leave behind their metro ticket held down with a small pebble.

The grave of Serge Gainsbourg is an altogether more riotous affair. There are lots of trinkets left on the stone or hanging from some suitably disreputable bushes growing at the rear. The inevitable portraits of the man are there also.

This is not an overtly religious place, though the majority of the gravestones, sarcophagi and sculptures have some religious symbol. These hands, for example, are beautifully sculptured, though they clasp a cross. The occupant is Robert Thibier.


The other notable that we witnessed, was Bernard Lacoste whose stone is relatively simple, with a little bit of greenery. A photo of the man adorns the headstone, as well as the company logo, the instantly recognisable crocodile. Nice bit of marketing.

A full list of the famous housed is available at the entrance to the cemetery.

Privatising schools

I have written many times about Michael Gove; but whilst most have been preocuppied by NHS reforms, Gove has continued his assuault on comprehensive education. The march of the Academies has carried on relentless with over half of the country’s high schools converted on the promise of higher budgets, albeit independent of the local education authority that often brings economies of scale to works and procurement.

The motivation is, of course, selection – a return to grammar schools. Elitism. But there is a light in all of this. Local education authorities may be a thing of the past, but schools may still need to organise themselves co-operatively, as there are genuine benefits to be achieved by collective provision. Let us see how it develops.

Marlboro get in on the act

Young people are directly targeted by the cigarette firms. The latest Pall Mall ad – which I don’t have a snap of yet – features a group of young people on a rooftop enjoying the spring with alcohol and cigarettes. There are some curiousities here. In most of the Pall Mall ads featuring young people, it only seems to be one of them actually smoking.

Marlboro’s latest advertisement features young people in a night club. There are no explicit images of individuals smoking, but being thrown in the air is certainly fun. The slogan MAYBE NEVER WILL defeats me. Any help on this would be appreciated. However, the text at the bottom indicates that the tar that one receives in smoking the cigarette may vary depending on how one smokes it; i.e. inhaling or not. That’s reassuring.

Anyone interested more widely on global trends in the cigarette industry might care to visit:

For more pictures visit:

Vauxhall Vivaros and their gearboxes

My delightful Vauxhall Vivaro has – since I bought it last July – had a reluctant 2nd gear. On Friday this reluctance became obstinance. It ceased to be co-operative. Moreover, it had equally convinced 4th and 6th to join the club.

A quick look on the internet demonstrates that this is not an uncommon problem with these vehicles. Maybe I should have stuck with the Transit and not listened to the salesman? Oh well. It looks like my wallet will need to be opened pretty widely to compensate for this poor engineering.

See new post from 24 July, 2012.