Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday September 26 2016

Photoed in January of this year. from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral:

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The Parliament website says that the tower above, the big one with lots of pointy bits, is called the Victoria Tower, but I’ve never heard it called that.  For me, it’s the Big Parliament Tower.

Anyway, whatever you call it, there it is, with the Shard beside and behind.  Very sweet alignment, I hope you will agree.

While categorising this posting, I had to check the picture to see if there are any cranes.  Of course there are cranes.  In shots like this, there are always cranes.

There are also two major London hospitals in the shot.  On the left St Thomas’s Hospital (the building on which it says “St Thomas’s Hospital"), on the far side of the river.  On the right, further away, bigger, next to the Shard, Guy’s.

Sunday September 25 2016

I love the various visual effects you sometimes get when a piece of reinforced concrete is being destroyed and when it puts up a fight.  I can’t say that it always does this, because you wouldn’t see anything when it is routed into oblivion in the space of a few hours, would you?  But when it does fight for its life, it can be quite a sight.  These effects are particularly worthy of being photographically immortalised because however long the fight lasts, it will still end, and pretty soon.

And, I find that the more I see of 240 Blackfriars, from near and from far, the more I like it.

So, here is today’s photo, taken today:

image

I took this while on my way from Waterloo to Tate Modern and its Extension viewing gallery, which I am visiting a lot these days, before the Let Them Get Net Curtains row causes the place to be closed or at least severely curtailed.

240 Blackfriars is the work, I have just learned, of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, whom I have now started to learn more about.  I never heard of them until now.

Preliminary findings: I think that 240 Blackfriars will probably turn out to be my favourite of their buildings so far.  And: they make a lot of use of colour, which I favour, but which can often look very tacky and Seventies-ish if you don’t do it right.

Saturday September 24 2016

I’m listening to chitchat on Radio Three about the origins of Radio Three’s previous and original manifestation, the Third Programme.

They’ve just mentioned an article by John Croft called Composition is not research.  I quickly found it on the www, and I want to hang on to it.

First paragraph:

There are, by and large, two kinds of composers in academia today – those who labour under the delusion that they are doing a kind of ‘research’, and those who recognise the absurdity of this idea, but who continue to supervise PhD students, make funding applications, and document their activities as if it were true. Composing, of course, might on occasion depend on research – how do I make an orchestra sound like a bell? How do I electronically sustain a note from an instrument so that it doesn’t sound mechanical? What is the best way to notate microtones or complex rhythms so that they can be accurately played? But none of these is actually the composition of music. Rameau’s harmonic theory was research, and it surely influenced his music (and music in general), but the Traité de l’harmonie is not a musical composition. The development of the pianoforte involved research and influenced music in profound ways, but it was not composing.

I have not read this essay yet.  But the point of this posting is not to say what I think of it, merely to make sure that I do read it.

I have long been interested in the rather misleading idea of musical “progress”.  This seems like it will be closely related to that idea.  Another related idea: music is not science, and new music does not replace old music.  But, I shall see.

Friday September 23 2016

The internet is fighting back against … cats!

Quote:

Cats are colonizers: this is what they do. They have colonized the internet just as they have colonized so many other habitats, always with the help of humans. This is the lesson of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, a new book by conservation scientist Peter P. Marra and travel writer Chris Santella. From remote islands in the Pacific to the marshes of Galveston Bay, Cat Wars traces the various ways in which felines have infiltrated new landscapes, inevitably sowing death and devastation wherever they go.

Perhaps the most famous case of genocide-by-cat is that of the remote Stephens Island in New Zealand. Before the end of the 19th century, it was home to a unique species: the Stephens Island wren. One of only a few species of flightless songbirds, the wren ran low to the ground, looking more like a mouse than a bird. After a lighthouse was built on the island in 1894, a small human settlement was established; and with humans, invariably, come pets. At some point a pregnant cat, brought over from the mainland, escaped and roamed wild. The island’s wrens, unused to facing such a skillful predator, were no match for the feral cats that spread throughout the island. Within a year, the Stephens Island wren was extinct. It would take another 30 years to eradicate the feral cats.

This is not an isolated incident. Cats have contributed to species decline and habitat reduction in dozens of other cases. Because they’re so cute and beloved, we have little conception of — and little incentive to find out — how much damage cats are doing to our environment. When researcher Scott Loss tallied up the number of animals killed by North American housecats in a single year, the results were absolutely staggering: between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles.

Most books that get multiple reviews on Amazon get around four stars out of five, on average, because most of the reviews are from admirers and there are just a few from detractors.  This book gets a star average of one and a bit.

I collect footbridges.  (Well, photos of.) Footbridges famous.  Footbridges not so famous.  Footbridges not even built.

Recently I came upon another for the collection:

image

This is a footbridge at the back of the Strand Palace Hotel.  I could find nothing about this footbridge on the www, but luckily I had already taken the precaution of asking someone local, just after I had taken my photos.  This local was entering an office in the same street with the air of doing this regularly, and who therefore seemed like someone who might know.  And he did.  What about that bridge? - I asked him.

Yes, he said.  That used to be the bridge that conveyed the servants from the Strand Palace Hotel, on the left in the above photo, to the servants quarters, which is what the dwellings on the right in my photo, behind the scaffolding, used to be.  These servants quarters had, quite a while back, been turned into mere quarters, for regular people to live in.  So, the bridge then got blocked off at the right hand end as we here look at it.  But, the bridge continued to be used by the Strand Palace Hotel as an elongated cupboard.  These old servants quarters are now being turned into luxury flats, which is why the scaffolding.  But the bridge stays.

That the original purpose of the bridge was to convey servants, as opposed to people, is presumably why the bridge has no windows.  Wouldn’t want to see servants going to and fro, would we.  Fair dos, actually.  A hotel of this sort – this one being just across the Strand from the Savoy - is a lot like a theatre, and the point of a theatre is not to see all the backstage staff wandering hither and thither.  So, I do get it.  And I doubt the servants minded that there were no windows.  I bet they minded lots of other things, but not that.

imageI will now expand on the matter of the exact location of this obscure footbridge.  As you can see from the square to the right, it is in Exeter Street, London WC2.  I took other photos of this Exeter Street street sign, because I have a rule about photoing information about interesting things that I photo, as well as photoing the interesting thing itself, which is that I do.  Sometimes, as on the day I took this photo, I even follow this rule.  But I thought I’d try extricating a detail from the above photo, and see how I did.  I blew the original up to maximum size, and sliced out a rectangle, tall and thin, with the street name in it.  I then expanded (see the first sentence of this paragraph) what I had, sideways, lightened it, contrasted it, sharpened it, blah blah blah, and I think you will agree that the result is unambiguous.  My point here is (a): Exeter Street, WC2, and (b): that such photomanipulation is not merely now possible.  My point (b) is that it is now very easy.  Even I can do all of this photomanipulation, really quickly and confidently.

I can remember when the only people who could work this sort of magic were spooks in movies, and then a bit later, detectives on the television.

Talking of spookiness, I included the surveillance camera in that little detail.  In London, these things are now everywhere.  Because of my sideways expanding of the photo, this camera looks like it sticks out more than it really does.

Thursday September 22 2016

Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons.  Here is one:

image

And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:

image

It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France.  I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.

Wednesday September 21 2016

The directory with all the snaps I took in Quimper and surrounding places, ten years ago, contains some fine images.

And some rather weird ones:

image

Okay, Citroens made of wood is not that weird.  Certainly not in France.

But those really rather realistic black baby dolls is something we surely don’t do nearly so much over here.  I’m guessing we have too much of a history of what you might call derogatory black dolls, unrealistically racist dolls, and that means that all black dolls are now tainted in our eyes, even much more realistic ones like the ones in that picture.  They evoke a tradition and a way of thinking we would prefer not to be reminded of, or worse, to be thought to be perpetuating.  When the British are being sentimental about black babies, they do it in those (I think) ghastly charity fundraising telly adverts.

But what do I know?  I’m just thinking aloud.  Maybe we do have lots of dolls like these in British shop windows, and I merely haven’t noticed them.  But, my first reaction when I say these black babies was, as I say: weird.  Certainly striking enough to take several photos of.

Tuesday September 20 2016

In September 2006, in other words exactly ten years ago, I was in Quimper, which is in Brittany.  And today, looking for a quota photo, I looked through the photos I took on that expedition.  As it happens, I was blogging only very lightly at the time, and I didn’t get around to posting many of the shots I took on that trip.  Here is one.  There’s another in this.  And that was about it.

So here, now, is another of the photos I did on that trip:

image

I chose that one because a blogger with whom I have a mutual enjoyment club, this guy, likes lighthousesQuote:

… I’m a sucker for a photograph which includes a lighthouse, ...

If he clicks on the above shot, he’ll get to just the lighthouses in that shop window picture, a lot bigger.  Sadly, the picture, even in its original and unshrunk size, is a bit blurry and hard to decypher, although I could when I really tried.

So, here is another lighthouse, the smaller of two lighthouses in the seaside town of Bénodet, which is near to Quimper, a shot I took during that same stay:

image

Neither of the two Bénodet lighthouses - not this one, which is called “Le Coq”, nor the other bigger one - is in that group portrait of lighthouses at the top of this.  Even the big one is not big enough, I guess.

LATER: 6k responds, with some dramatic detail about the second lighthouse from the left in the poster.  He also explains what the circles mean, which had me puzzled.

Monday September 19 2016

In this earlier posting, I speculated that someone living in Roupell Street, which is near Waterloo Station, has been collecting vintage Citroen’s.  This guy came upon the same Citroens as I did, in the same place, and made the same guess.

But this evening, I dined out with friends, mentioned the above posting, and was informed that the explanation for this clutch of Citroens is that there is a man who restores or repairs them, who lives or at any rate works, in that locality.  Makes sense.  And it means that Roupell Street may not have become quite as posh as I originally said.

Sunday September 18 2016

Here are some pictures I took in the main part of Tate Modern, while on my way to and from the New Extension.

Once again, what I saw in this grand building, now even grander, is this amazing paucity of Art.  I presume there is plenty of Art in this place, if you go looking for it.  But I have never before visited any Art gallery where you have to go looking, half as determinedly as you have to in this one:

imageimageimageimageimageimage

Art being somewhat lacking, the people came into their own.  I photoed people.  And I photoed people photoing people.

The lady with the blue hair and the blue fingers is herself a work of Art.

Saturday September 17 2016

I love all the paraphernalia, big and small, of London tourism.  And with my digital camera, and more to the point with my habit of having my digital camera with me and keeping a lookout for things to photo with it, I don’t have to buy any of it.  I can just photo it.

Today, for instance, from inside the laundrette that I have been frequenting lately, for my end of summer clothes washes, I spied this bus (I think there is only one such) going past.  This is one of London’s more diverting sights.  And I managed to get a zoom-snap of it before it got too far away:

image

Not bad, considering how gloomy the light was today.

Website here.

That back window is actually quite a good detail to focus on.  If you look a bit carefully (enlarge with a click), you can see that it is also the EMERGENCY EXIT.

Friday September 16 2016

How do you know if a cat is happy?  Answer, mostly: from the sounds it makes and from its bodily movements.  It purrs.  It shoves its face against your legs, or your face.  These are the strongest signs.

A still photo of a happy cat, or any kind of realistic picture, is not likely to communicate feline happiness nearly so definitely.  And that is particularly true if you are only allowed a picture of the cat’s face.  It’s eyes may be nearly shut, but that could just be because it’s resting, rather than especially happy.  And anyway, good pictures of faces, the sort that really get our attention, have eyes which are wide open.

image

I’m guessing that this may have been the thinking behind the above, to me, rather unsettling image.  There are no eyes-wide-open eye-catching photos of happy cats, so they slapped a smile on a cat in a drawing.

But, as I often say of rather peculiar things that I show photos of here: it got my attention.  Click on the above for a bit of context.  I took the photo in the Earls Court area, rather than Notting Hill, and it was of a bike.

The website.

There is, of course, that Cheshire Cat, but that’s rather unsettling also.

Thursday September 15 2016

Mick Hartley celebrates the addition, now complete and in business, of a slide to the Big Olympic Thing, with some pictures of it that he has taken.

He of course shows the whole thing.  Me, I am more and more coming to see that the quality I most value in these Big Things is their instant recognisability.  Hey, look at that.  That can only be … That!

So here is another photo of the Big Olympic Thing from my archives, showing hardly any of it, but still (for me anyway) instantly recognisable:

image

Click to get the bigger original.  Rather artistic, I think.

Taken the same day, and from the same place, that I took this photo of the Shard and the Gherkin directly in line.

Here.  The fourth of five postings at Samizdata today, so far.

Wednesday September 14 2016

This I knew:

Seven Dials is a small road junction in Covent Garden in the West End of London where seven streets converge.

But this, I did not know:

At the centre of the roughly circular space is a column bearing six sundials, a result of the column being commissioned before a late stage alteration of the plans from an original six roads to seven.

I used to work in Covent Garden and Seven Dials was a favourite spot then.  There was a hardware shop in one of the Seven Dials spokes, so to speak, and I used to go there a lot.

Here is a picture I took of this column and of some of its surroundings, this (very sunny) afternoon:

image

But, here is a picture I took of the inscription at the bottom of the column, which I never noticed before:

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So, was a replacement column put up, around that time?

Yes.  The original column went to Weybridge, via Addlestone, which reminds me of trains from Egham when I was kid.  “Virginia Water, Chertsey, AddleSTONE and Weybridge”, an old man used to yell, just before the train for these locations departed.  I used to love that.  But I digress.  Here’s what happened to the original Seven Dials column:

The original sundial column was removed in 1773. It was long believed that it had been pulled down by an angry mob, but recent research suggests it was deliberately removed by the Paving Commissioners in an attempt to rid the area of “undesirables”. The remains were acquired by architect James Paine, who kept them at his house in Addlestone, Surrey, from where they were bought in 1820 by public subscription and re-erected in nearby Weybridge as a memorial to Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, Duchess of York and Albany.

The replacement sundial column was installed in 1988–89 to the original design. It was unveiled by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on a visit to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of William and Mary, during which the area was developed.

Original design presumably means that, just like the original, the new column only has six dials at the top.