Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Category archive: Transport

Monday October 15 2018

Here are what I suspect to be some wise words, from Rob Fisher, in a comment on this Samizdata posting I recently did about Facebook’s political bias:

Facebook is for cat pictures, baby photos and holiday photos. I recently posted some photos of some old model trains I have and another friend offered to give me some old toy trains they don’t want any more. That’s what it’s for.

People trying to do politics on Facebook serves only to demonstrate how unsuited it is for that purpose.

That’s comment number 42, and very possibly the last word on the matter.

Like I say, this sounds wise, in the sense that it seems to contain an important truth, even if it doesn’t really sound like the whole truth.  After all, I just did another posting here about something political which I first heard about on Facebook.

Here is a photo of Rob’s toy trains that he recently posted on Facebook:

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Am I betraying a confidence, meant only for Rob’s Facebook friends?  Hardly, since Rob has already mentioned his trains on the Mainstream Media, in a comment at Samizdata.

It occurs to me that I have some toy trains that Rob might like.  Like because I think they are N gauge, but perhaps something even smaller.  Rob, if you read this, take a look at them next time you visit me.

Saturday October 13 2018

Three photos I took this afternoon, in quick succession, from a moving train:

imageimageimageimageimage

Such photos seldom come out very well, what with all the movement and the reflections in the window.  But these did, I think.

I remember thinking, when it became clear what these two Big Things were going to look like, that although each looked okay separately, that they would make a rather discordant pair.  But as with almost all such Big London architectural eccentricities, I soon got used to this contrast, and now like it a lot.

Friday October 12 2018

Somewhat over a year ago I wrote about When what I think it is determines how ugly or beautiful I feel it to be, in connection with this building:

image

This is described, at any rate by its owners and its various occupants, as The Peak.

And that photo of mine above, taken from the top of the Westminster Cathedral Tower, is my Peak photo which best illustrates the oddly deceptive appearance of this decidedly odd-looking building.  It looks like a 60s rectangular lump, to which 90s or 00s curvatures, on the right as we look, and on the top, have been added.  But, as I discovered when concocting that previous posting, the whole thing was built all at once.  It looks like a two-off building rather than a one-off building, but looks deceive, or deceived me, for a while.  Two-off good, one-off bad, was how I had been thinking.  It was two-off, so (aesthetically) good.  Organic, additive, blah blah.  But, what was I supposed to think, on discovering that it was really an inorganic and un-additive one-off?

Now, buried in my photo-archives, I find this photo, taken on October 28th 2008, which confirms that The Peak is indeed a one-off, because here it is (here it was), all being built in one go.  There really is no doubt about it:

image

When I took this photo, I was a lot more interested in the anti-pigeon spikes on top of those street lamps, and on top of the railway sign, than I was in the building work in the background.

How I now feel about The Peak, aesthetically, is that I still rather like it, if only because I have paid so much attention to it over the years, and feel sort of proprietorial towards it, as you would towards a somewhat clumsy child that you have adopted.  (That feeling applies, for me, to a great many London buildings.)

Also, whatever else you think of it, when you see it, you at once know where you are.  It is very recognisable, recognisability being a quality in buildings which I appreciate more and more.  “Iconic” is the rather silly word that estate agents and suchlike use to allude to this quality.  But they have a point, even if they use a silly word to point to their point.  That “you could be anywhere” feeling is not a good one, in a city or anywhere else.

“Other creatures” (see below) because of the pigeon scaring.

Wednesday October 03 2018

This:

image

Photoed by me last night.  And explained here.  The Metropolitan Line came up with this logo just after the regular London Underground logo was devised.  Now this version of it survives,but only on platforms at Moorgate that are no longer used.

Weird.

In the twentieth century, weird is all it would have been.  Then forgotten.  Just another of life’s little mysteries.  But, in the age of the internet, there are no little mysteries.

Tuesday October 02 2018

Photoed by me last night, at Blackwall DLR station:

image

It’s not really that of course.  It’s just that I have learned that one of the best ways to photo a sunset is to photo railway tracks that are disappearing into it.

Friday September 28 2018

TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.

First word in this, which is about piles.  IL more about piles here and here.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

image

La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

image

In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?

Tuesday September 18 2018

And no, I don’t mean reinforcements for an army.  I mean the kind of reinforcements that end up buried in concrete.

Like these ones:

imageimageimage
imageimageimage
imageimageimage

All six of these photos also feature one of the more impressive scaffolding arrays near me just now.  The art of scaffolding and the art of creating reinforcements for structural concrete have much in common.  Both involve putting together lots of bits of metal.  Both need to result in a structure that stays put and does not collapse.  Both look pretty to people like me.

But there are also big differences.  Scaffolding is very visible, and it remains visible for the duration of its working existence.  Scaffolding thus proclaims itself to the world, by its very existence.  That we live in a golden age of scaffolding is obvious to all of us, whether we like this fact or hate it.

Also, scaffolding rather quickly punishes those who erect it, if they don’t do it right.  While creating scaffolding, scaffolders make use of the scaffolding they have just been constructing, and they are their own first users.  They thus have a literally inbuilt incentive to do their work well.  And if they don’t, it is not that hard for others to spot this.  Bad scaffolding wobbles.  Such are my surmises about scaffolding.

Reinforcements for concrete are something else again.  By the time they go to work, doing the job they were built for, everyone concerned had better be damn sure that they have done their work well.  But, if they haven’t, the disastrous consequences of that bad work may take years to happen, and even then to be controversial.  Who is to say exactly what caused a building to collapse?  And if the building collapses rather catastrophically, it is liable to destroy a lot of the evidence of what exactly happened, and why.  Investigating such catastrophes being a whole separate job in itself.  So, getting these reinforcements right, with an inbuilt regime of testing and inspection and supervision, all managed by morally upright people whose declarations of confidence in what they have been inspecting can be relied upon, is a whole distinct industry.

But, this is an industry whose products, by their nature, end up being invisible.  We all rely on such work being done correctly, not just “structurally” but also in a morally correct manner.  Yet, we mostly never see this work, only its indirect results.

So, I hereby I celebrate the work, morally as well as merely technically good, that goes into the making of reinforcements for concrete.  I salute the good men and true who make these (I think) beautiful objects, and who ensure that they perform faithfully.  Their moral as well as technical excellence is all part of why I consider such reinforcements to be things of beauty.

I did some googling to try to determine exactly what reinforcements like those in my photos are used for.  The lorry says R. SWAIN AND SONS on it.  But they are hauliers, not makers of concrete reinforcements.  The nearest I got to an answer was this photo, of objects just like those on my lorry, with this verbiage attached: “Prefabricated Piling Cages Made of Reinforced Bars On Site”.  Prefabricated Piling cages.  Piling sounds to me like foundations.  (Yes.) The reinforcing has to be shoved down a hole in one go.  It can’t be constructed bit by bit, in the hole.  It either gets assembled beforehand on site, or, it gets assembled in a factory and taken to the site by lorry, as above.

The reinforcing that a structure needs when it is above ground, on the other hand, can be assembled on site, and I’m guessing that this is what usually happens.

Just guessing, you understand.  My first guess actually was: for an above ground structure, until I came upon the photo I just linked to, and not foundations.  But, what do I know?

Monday September 10 2018

If someone is doing this ...:

image

... is it okay to photo them and stick the photo up on the internet, somewhere like here?  I feel that it is okay, because, albeit in a very good way, the guy is making something of a spectacle of himself.  He is doing something very individual, in public, in a way that people are bound to notice.  Therefore, he doesn’t mind them noticing, or he wouldn’t do it.  Therefore, he won’t mind me noticing it.

Behind our self-transporter, we can just about make out the towers of Battersea Power Station.  Well, I can, because I know that’s what it is, because that’s where I took the above photo, this afternoon.  At the time, I was busy photoing the road, because in my opinion it is a very interesting road.  For reasons which I may, or may not, explain, here, some other time.

Meanwhile, I miss Transport Blog.

Sunday September 09 2018

Photoed by me, this afternoon, just outside Acton Central London Overground station:

image

Time was when I would have completely trusted a blog posting like this one, which says good things about this enterprise.  Now I merely trust this blog posting enough to link to it, and enough to hope that what it says is true.  I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t, apart from the fact it’s on the internet.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can you be sure that I am for real?  I am, but I would say that, wouldn’t i?

Friday September 07 2018

Driverless cars will happen, eventually.  But when they do, who knows what they will be like, or look like, what they will do or not do, what other changes they will precipitate?  When this finally happens, it will surely be the railways, or the internet, in the sense that it will be big, and that nobody now knows how big or what the details will consist of.

Two driverless vehicle articles came to my attention today, both of which illustrate how very different driverless vehicles could end up being to the vehicles we are now familiar with.

This Dezeen report reports on a scheme by Land Rover to put eyes on the front of driverless vehicles, to communicate with pedestrians, the way pedestrians now look at the faces of drivers to negotiate who goes where, when.  Makes sense.  With no driver, and the vehicle driving itself, it could use a face, or else how will the vehicle be able to participate in after-you-no-after-you-no-afteryou-no-I-insist-so-do-I sessions?

image

So, does a robot with a working face (in due course robot faces will be a lot better than that one) count as: “Other creatures”?  I say: yes (see below).

Will the Thomas the Tank Engine books prove to be a prophetic glimpse into the future of transport?  Eat your hearts out, SF movies.  Didn’t see that coming, did you?

And here is a posting about how people might choose to sleep in driverless vehicles on long journeys, instead of going by air.  The problem with going by air being that you have to go by airport, and that sleeping in the typical airplane is for many impossibly uncomfortable.  But, if we do sleep on long distance driverless vehicles, what will we do about going to the toilet?  Stop at a toilet sounds like an answer.  But what will the toilet be like?  Might it also be a vehicle?

The point is: nobody knows how driverless vehicles will play out.  Except to say that if they look like cars and vans and lorries look now, that would be an insanely improbable coincidence.

LATER: More about those eyes here.

Monday August 27 2018

It was a moment in London’s construction history which has always intrigued me.  My photos of it were taken in March 2012:

imageimageimage

That’s right.  Those strange ghost columns were, for a few short months or years (I don’t recall), being used as so many tiny building sites, supporting the construction of the Blackfriars Bridge railway station.

I regret that some more permanent use could have been found for these ghost columns.  Maybe some sort of pedestrian bridge?  But I suppose these columns are distrusted for anything but the lightest use, such as we observe in the above photos.

If you read this, you will learn that these ghosts used to come in threes, rather than in the twos we observe now.  The inner columns became part of the new bridge.

But if those columns were good enough to do that job, why cannot their brethren be made more use of?

It seems a shame.  It seems like a missed opportunity.

I think I may have said something like this here before.  So be it.  It bears repetition.

Wednesday August 22 2018

I like these photos that I took last March.  I like the rather sombre light.  If my camera is to be believed, it was around 6.30 pm:

imageimageimage

On the left, the “South Bank Tower”.  Not interesting enough to the general public for it to have a name.  On the right, what I prefer to call The Wheel.  And in the middle?  I tend to call it One Blackfriars, but as Londonist points out, many people are calling this the Boomerang.

I also like it when Big Things aren’t quite ready and are still be worked on, but you can clearly see how they’ll look.  My very first digital camera coincided with the finishing off of the Gherkin and I have the photos to prove it, and ever since then, I’ve collected such architectural moments.  (My first digital camera also coincided with the last months of Concorde, but I don’t have the photos to prove that, which I still regret.)

And, as I only just remembered to say: the vertical bit on the far right is the edge of all that activity going on around the old Shell Building, and the building in the foreground is just flats, next to the iMax roundabout.

LATER:  Concerning the Boomerang, one of Michael Jennings’s Facebook friends (and actual friends, I think), who is called Lee J Tee, says this:

I actually really like that building. In general I think most of the modern buildings in London are worthy. A world class city deserves unique buildings and London has plenty of them, all different from each other and I like that individuality.

Amen.

I absolutely don’t understand how Facebook works, and probably never will, so I have no idea if I even can link to this, let alone whether, if I can, I should.  So, just take my words for it.

Someone else says that, actually, what I have been calling the “Boomerang” is “informally known as The Vase”.  Well, well.  I prefer that to Boomerang.

Sunday August 19 2018

Earlier this evening I did some laundretting, and while I was there, this showed up outside:

image

I still photo taxis with adverts on them, and I especially liked this one, advertising this..

It made me think of the last time I went up to the top of the Shard, just over a year ago.

So I took a browse through the photos I took that day, and this time around, this one particularly struck me:

image

That was cropped to confine itself to the one building, and photoshop(clone)ed to resist the dullness of the day and general fogginess of the original.

Part of me wants to say that this is a classic case of the behind-the-scenes bit of a building, a chunk of it that you are not supposed to look at and get all aesthetic about.  It is what it is.

But I actuallly think that this is the facade of the building that the architects of it were most proud.  There is an exuberance about this roof, done in the equipment-as-decoration style, that is utterly lacking in the rest of the building.  The “official” bits of which are about as dull as dullness can get.  They didn’t have the budget to go full Lloyds Building, all over.  But they were able to go crazy on the roof, because the politicians whose job it was to tell them to redo the design more boringly didn’t give the roof any attention.  They thought they were building a machine for studying in, but only on the roof were they able to go mad with “expressing” that machineness.

I reckon they were delighted that the Shard was later put right next to this block of boredom with a great roof, enabling thousands of folks to gaze down on their favourite bit..  Gotcha, boredom police!

Okay, just a thought, and a thought that could well be wrong.  Maybe they really didn’t care how the roof looked.  But take a look through these photos of this mostly very dull slab, mostly taken from street level, of course, and see if you don’t share my suspicions.