New York Favourites

Another very personal list. We loved it. It’s vibrant and colourful.

Staten Island Ferry

Free views of the harbour and Statue of Liberty. A great New York experience.

View from the ferry


A wonderful “fill a bowl” deli near the above. Fantastic. Suited everybody’s foibles.

Roosevelt Tramway

Cable car to Roosevelt Island. A short trip, great views.

View from the tramway

Urban Space

Food market near 5th Avenue. Great buns and dumplings at ‘Bao by Kava’.

Chelsea Market

Another amazing food market, near the High Line garden walkways. Thanks to LY for the food recommendations.

Union Station

A grand piece of architecture. “Iconic” is an over-used word, but it is. The food hall, however….

Union Station

Hotel Edison

Lovely Art Deco hotel, very central. Beautiful foyer, rooms a little scruffy but a great place to stay.

Murals in the foyer


Surprisingly easy to use- except for the stupid swipe cards, which they are replacing.

And finally…..

Despite their reputation for being rude, all the New Yorkers we met were patient and helpful. Even with swipe cards on the subway, which they also find a problem. See picture below.

From Time Out

Oblique America #3


Washington Favourites

Washington Favourites 1A brief, individual selection. I would hate anybody to think we are experts on Washington. We had a brief trip, and probably not a typical one. However, I could not resist listing my favourite parts.

Union Station

Wonderful. A magnificent, beautifully restored edifice, with an abundance of gold leaf and statues, It has a multitude of eating places, including our favourite, the Blue Bottle Café. Good coffee (which we found surprisingly rare) and great cookies.

National Gallery Sculpture Garden

This is an oasis. It has a lovely café, with great staff and cold beer. The fountains outside were probably my favourite spot. There is plenty of interesting sculpture, most of it quite modern.

Washington Favourites

Hirshhorn Museum/ Smithsonian Castle Gardens

These lovely gardens merge into each other and are a welcome variation from the flat grass of the National Mall. Very interesting plants, well labelled in the Hirshhorn.

Washington Favourites 5

National Gallery of Art

A large collection in lovely rooms. We only visited the West Wing, which features Turner, Monet, and many more.

Washington Favourites 2


A beautiful area of older houses. I shall probably be criticised for saying they are colonial style, but that is the best word. They are a very pleasant wander, a short bus ride away from the centre.

Washington Favourites 3

The Korean War Memorial

There are many memorials in the Mall, the central area of the city. We visited several, but this one is very moving, with ghostly soldiers patrolling the garden.

Washington Favourites 4

Washington001And finally….. The DC Circulator

Not a sight, but a series of bus routes, which take you to most of the interesting parts of the city. Frequent…. and free. Also featuring wonderful, helpful, kind drivers.

Where not to go…..

Anywhere full of school parties. Like the Air and Space Museum in the rain. What a disappointment.

(Oblique America #2)

What is wrong with Niagara?

What is wrong with Niagara?


Niagara Falls are one of the world’s most amazing natural wonders. Certainly they are one of the most amazing natural spectacles I have seen, although I’m not that widely travelled. So how can those lovely people, the Canadians, have allowed their side to become so trashy?


For trashy some of it certainly is. There are some lovely parts: the walk along by the Niagara River; the parks and gardens, some a little neglected. Yet, just behind, are some streets that would disgrace the most seedy British seaside town.

Everything is designed to make money. Mrs O. sums it up so well: “Dirty, loud and like hell on Earth. Plastic facades of scary death walks or see the revolting mistakes of nature.” Behind it, hotels ranging from the soulless to the scruffy.

There seems to have been a real problem with town planning to let it get like this. How could they have done it?

As for food: I’m sure that if you pay enough money (and we found food prices to be high anyway) that you can get a good meal. But apart from a decent enough burger (at an unexpected refuge from a bus full of aggressive school children on tour), we found nothing. Unless you count Starbucks, which is everywhere.

Note: the Falls are beautiful. The Skylon Tower is a great cheap visit for a superb view. The Sheraton Hotel was lovely. The Canadians are extremely courteous and friendly people (though don’t ask about the airport), so why has this happened?

(This may be the first of a little series about our North American visit. Call it “Oblique America#1!”)

‘Head of State’ by Andrew Marr

This definitely gets an “Oblique Good Read Award”.

It’s a political thriller- and a satire.

It was written by Andrew Marr, well-known in the UK as a political writer and broadcaster (and artist). As such, it has a ring of authenticity, and echoes of his drily witty, sometimes tongue-in-cheek voice.

Head of State Cover001The novel is set in the middle of a European referendum campaign. There is a crisis in the pro-Europe camp, which results in a fiendish plot. I won’t give you any spoilers; it is in many ways farcical, but none the worse for that.

There is a great cast of characters: politicians, press, broadcasters, criminals and others. Many are larger than life, and enjoyably so. The Prime Minister is “magisterial” with “louche private behaviour”. The leader of the anti-Europe faction is a dominatrix. Yes, really; but luckily I don’t think Mr Marr will win any bad sex awards. One or two real personalities appear, and there are references to Mr Marr’s own Sunday morning TV programme. It appears there are some in-jokes, such as a knighthood for one broadcaster.

A huge selling point for me is that the book is plot-driven. I read it in two days, acknowledging the satire but gripped by wanting to know the outcome. There is also some nice use of language: for example, one character is “dishevelled”, another is “shevelled”. The authentic-sounding detail of politics and political places is used well but not excessively. As it was written in 2014, it necessarily has been overtaken in certain ways by events, which does not in any way prevent it from being a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Weary Voter

On Thursday May 2nd the good people of the UK will be voting in various local elections, county, borough and parish. Once more, rather wearily, I want people to vote. Why wearily?

This time I can vote in parish and borough elections. Although my choice is, of course, a secret, I cannot disguise that I am finding the decision difficult.

The local elections often seem to be regarded as a commentary on the national situation. This is more than ever the case at the present, with the protracted process of Brexit.

I urge people to pay attention to local issues, which are all that local representatives can influence. There is the problem: what are the choices?

We have received only two election leaflets, for the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. (It is, admittedly, hard to see any other party or independent candidate having any chance in this leafy suburb, given the recent pattern of these elections, although that’s not a reason to ignore them. How else would anybody gain a position?) They both promise action on traffic congestion, local open spaces and value for money. Neither specifically address the key issue I am concerned about locally: the preservation of marginal wildlife areas, which have been drastically hacked.

Only one of the leaflets gives me a contact so I can ask about this issue.

I could of course pursue the candidates, find out contact details and press them on my concerns. I may still do so, but I think many people would regard the whole process as too much like hard work.

(I naturally acknowledge that many candidates may have very limited resources. Shouldn’t we perhaps make more resources available, for our democracy to work better?)

So why vote?

Because if you don’t, they get away with it. They can do whatever they like. Vote. Vote because you think they sound nice. Vote because you like one of their policies. Vote because you’ve made a careful assessment of the issues and a considered judgement. Spoil your paper, if you like. But vote.

And ignore those people taking numbers outside the polling station. They have no legal right to information about you. (Sorry, Rob.)

The Weary Voter

(I will add other leaflets if they arrive.)

What Does It Mean To Apologise?

What does it mean to apologise?

Until this year, I knew nothing about the 1919 Amritsar (or Jallianwalla Bagh) massacre, in which maybe 1000 Indians (the figure will never be accurately known), including babies, were killed by British Indian Army troops. It was a horrendous atrocity and very, very wrong. If you are not aware of it, there is much to read online.

What does it mean to apologise

The centenary brought an acknowledgement of this wrong from Mrs May, the British Prime Minister. However, Mr Corbyn, the leader of the Opposition, thought she should have gone further and apologised. Hence my question.

The pocket Oxford Dictionary says an apology is a “regretful acknowledgement of offence”. My youngest daughter says it is “when you have done something wrong”.

There is the issue. Who has done the wrong? Who is regretful for it?

Almost everybody, except perhaps for die-hard imperialists, admits the Amritsar massacre was wrong. It was done by representatives of the British nation, although it was condemned by the House of Commons at the time. Surely we all regret it happened.

However, the argument goes, you cannot “reach back into history” to apologise. How can modern politicians say sorry for something that happened before they were born and which is abhorrent to them?

Counter to that, one might say we as individuals may be sorry for something we did a long time ago which we now know to be wrong; and that modern politicians represent the nation as a whole, and the nation as a whole should be sorry for its past.

There is no simple solution to this conundrum, and I do not pretend to have one.

Picture of bullet holes from the massacre by Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (

Coming to Terns with the Past

How do you come to terms with the past? It’s a question that has slowly crystallised in my mind in retirement, as the memory of my teaching life slowly fades and I think about the things that the preoccupying business of work pushed aside. How do I settle these memories and move on to the last part of my life? (And I DO know that it’s all a new adventure and new opportunity.)

So I did what any self-respecting modern person does. I looked it up on the internet. On Dogpile, not Google, just to be different.

After ads for paste recipes (wot???) and “Karmic readings” (don’t you dare invade my privacy by reading my Karma, thank you), there was a Yahoo answers entry for coming to terms with sad memories (not entirely what I was looking for) and then a prayer (ditto). The third result was a Wikipedia entry on “time”, believe it or not.

Time- according to Wikipedia- “is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession”.

Coming to Terns with the Past OmarIrreversible, eh? Well, I suppose that means that the past is done with- has gone. It all puts me in mind of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Now, I don’t know what status, literary or otherwise, this has in the modern world, although the very well-read Ms Oblique #1 was not aware of it. It is a collection of the poetry said to have been written by Omar Khayyam a thousand years ago, translated by Edward FitzGerald. It was popular when I was younger, possibly due to its easily-remembered philosophy, in verses such as:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

The NEXT result on my search was, intriguingly, a Wikihow entry on ‘How to Leave the Past Behind (with Pictures)’. With pictures! Wow, that’s got to be worth a look.

Before I looked, I had one of those moments of sudden realisation. I don’t want to leave the past behind- Wikipedia and Omar Khayyam have made it clear that the past IS behind. So what do I mean? I suppose I’m saying that I don’t like how the past affects my present; how it has negative effects in the present. I don’t want to forget it, but I want it not to be always in my thoughts, with all its regrets, resentments and echoes. Is that possible?

A brief summary of this website’s advice is:

Acknowledge the challenges of the past.

Accept that you cannot change what happened, only how you view it

Try meditation or yoga

Keep a journal

Spend time with other people

Seek professional help

This is great advice, although I don’t think I’d go to the extreme of professional help. Bullet points, however, are not sufficient to encapsulate what would be a long process. It is well worth looking up:

How to Leave the Past Behind

Or you could just be a Taoist and exist in the here and now. If only…..

Coming to Terns with the Past TernsWell, that’s telling you how to come to terms with the past, or, more intriguingly, “with terns to the past”, which was my original typo. I put it in the title just to entice you to read it. Sorry.

Perhaps I should stick to the paste recipes.

Omar Khayyam picture: original uploader was Atilin at French Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]