New York City

Regular readers may have noticed a pause in this blog in June.   Where was I?  In the USA.

Here are a couple of photos from New York City.  The first one shows Grand Central Terminal, where I arrived by train from White Plains NY.

Grand Central Terminal ceiling and flag

I photographed everything New York-ish from fire hydrants to pretzels, but the most photogenic building was the Chrysler Building.

flag and chrysler

Chrysler Building curves

Chrysler eagles

It turns out that expat life has long-lasting benefits.  This trip to America was based around friendships made in China and India.  Buy lunch for a friend in Bangalore and they return the favour in Boston.  Make friends with people in Dalian, and they invite you to a wedding in New York.  Accumulate enough frequent-flyer points on long hauls across Asia in 2007, and you can cover the cost of transatlantic flights in 2015.

So, in honour of my friends who keep up our connections across the world, here’s an extra photograph, of an unlikely newspaper vending machine in Washington DC.

China Daily in NYC

Distant Grumblin’

It’s time to answer some Frequently Asked Questions.

GRUMPY FROM GOA:  “This is an expat blog about India, isn’t it? I’ve been waiting for a year, and no photos of India.”

ME:  I lived in India from 2011-2013, when my husband went to work in Bangalore. When that assignment finished, we came back home to the UK.  No more India. You’ve missed the bus.

Bangalore bus

FED UP FROM FULHAM:  “This is a London blog, isn’t it? Why am I looking at photos of a farm?”

ME:  Since 2014, I have been splitting my time between two places: a farm in Northern Ireland, and an apartment in London.  My movements between the two are not well-planned; neither is the blog.  But if you want more of London, chew on this gherkin.

gherkin & chimneys
London Skyline November 2014


BORED FROM BUSHMILLS:  “This is a blog from the Irish countryside, isn’t it? Why am I looking at photos of London?”

ME:  See above – I just explained it to FED UP FROM FULHAM. You want more farm photos?  Here, have a donkey.

donkey at gate
Donkey in farmyard after getting his feet clipped, February 2014


CONFUSED FROM CAIRNRYAN:  “What kind of day job lets you flit so randomly across the Irish Sea?”

ME:  I have just retired from my day job. Before I went to India, I worked in London, in a world of law, writing and politics.  It was always interesting, but it was the kind of job that took up all of the space in my brain. After a few years of freedom to think about other stuff, life seems richer and I don’t want to go back to the office.

tongariro hut table
All I need for relaxation at Discovery Lodge, Tongariro, New Zealand, November 2014


WORRIED FROM WORDPRESS:   “Are you ever going to focus on one thing?”

ME I have a second, super-focused blog.   “Townlands of Ulster” is single-minded in its dedication to Irish geography.  But this blog will continue to be the Dilletante Drumlin.

Butterflies in Hong Kong Park, November 2014


OK, so those FAQs may have been Fictional Artificial Questions, but the answers were true.  Does anyone have any real questions?


28 Photos Later: Day 1 in London

February on Distant Drumlin will be different: a new post every day for a month.  I’m calling it “28 Photos Later”.

Most of the photos will be images of quiet, little-known corners of London.  But I’m starting at the top, with two buildings that you probably do know – the Shard and the Tower of London.

So here is photo number 1: “Two Towers”.

Two Towers

And just to remind me that this is Day 1, here is a photo from another London street.



Thames Path: Bridges and Skyscrapers

Can you name these bridges over the River Thames in London?


From front to back, they are Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Tower Bridge. The missing ingredient is London Bridge, which is hidden behind the train.

When I took that photo of the bridges, I was standing on a footbridge connecting St. Paul’s Cathedral (on the north bank of the Thames) with the Tate Modern Art Gallery (on the south bank).  That bridge is officially known as the London Millennium Bridge, but it has struggled to shake off the nickname of “wobbly bridge” (click here for scientific explanations of why it wobbled on its opening day).  You can see the bridge itself in the next photo of the cathedral.

St Paul's from Tate Modern

The older, classic buildings of London don’t seem to have nicknames, but 21st century buildings just can’t get the same respect. Now, before a skyscraper is even finished, it is named, sometimes officially, like “The Shard”, and sometimes unofficially, like the buildings in the next photo….which are, from left to right, “the cheesegrater”, “the gherkin” and “the walkie talkie”.

Gherkin & Walkie Talkie

The “walkie-talkie” is under construction at 20 Fenchurch Street, where they are proud of their “building with more up top”, even if it bounces heat from the sun on to buildings on the next street – click here for reports of melted cars and scorched carpets.

20 Fenchurch St sign

I don’t know if these nicknames show that Londoners are cynical or affectionate about our skyscrapers.  What happens in other cities?  Do you have gherkins of your own?

Shard: Intergalactic Spear or Shangri-la?

I left London in 2011 and returned in 2013 to a skyline pierced by a brand new building – the Shard.

Shard & Anchor Pub

Why is it called “The Shard”?   According to the official guidebook, the name “derives from the building’s sculpted design, which consists of tapering glass facets that do not meet at the top.  The summit resembles jagged shards of glass, while the building as a whole is reminiscent of an inverted icicle”.


It has been described as being “like an intergalactic spear” (by London’s Mayor Boris Johnson) and as “a knife in the heart of London” (by singer Marc Almond).

Shard & corner of brick building

From the viewing gallery on the 72nd floor of the Shard, many of London’s landmarks look small and (in the words of Father Ted) far away.  But one building still impressed me with its beauty and strength – Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

View from the Shard


I also know a good place to go for a shot of the Cathedral lined up in front of the Shard.  It’s the street corner where Farringdon Road meets Greville Street.

Shard & St Paul's Cathedral

A little piece of Asia will open soon (UPDATE: it opens today, 6 May 2014!) at the Shard – the Shangri-la Hotel.  At which point I shall just forget the architecture, and enjoy the luxury.  Who wants to join me for dinner on the 35th floor and champagne on the 52nd floor?

Shangri-la Shard sign

Gifts from China

Last week my husband came home from China, laden with gifts from a reunion with colleagues from his previous expat posting.  One gift was a papercut decoration for the Year of the Horse, now proudly displayed on my front door and as a header for the blog to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Papercut Year of the Horse

The other gifts were so unexpected, and so generous – so I am using the blog to send our friends in Dalian, Shanghai and Guangzhou a big Thank You,  谢 谢, and 恭喜发财。Here are a few of the beautiful gifts, some from our favourite brands – Shanghai Tang and Liu Li Gong Fang.

Gifts from China
We must now plan a sophisticated dinner party to use our new chopstick holders, and resist the temptation to stage mock battles between our horses, tigers, dragons and phoenix

The dragons of China may be timeless, but the skyline of Shanghai keeps changing.  Here is the view from my husband’s office last week. The highest building in the photo is the Shanghai Tower, which was topped out in 2013 at 632 metres, making it the second tallest building in the world.

View from the office in 2014
View from the office in 2014

I remember the “olden days” of 2007 when the Jin Mao Tower seemed enormous, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre (“the bottle opener”) was still under construction. Click here to see a photo on my Flickr account: Progress in 2007

Even better, click here to see a photo of blue, smog-free, sky in Shanghai in 2009: JinMao and SWFC together – and blue sky!

Finally, Happy Chinese New Year to all Distant Drumlin’s readers – I will finish with a photo of the lantern decoration outside the Chinese Embassy here in London.

Chinese Embassy Red Lantern