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

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Category archive: Design

Thursday April 27 2017

A recent photo, taken in the Burlington Arcade, off Piccadilly:

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Is this, I wonder, the place where Michael Portillo buys his clothes?  Here is the most Portillo-esque bit of the Cordings website.  Most of the clothes on show there are not so flamboyant.  Shame.

That’s GodDaughter 2, also photoing this enterprise, somewhat out of focus on the right there in my photo.  She is getting into the spirit of things not only with her finger nails but also with a sticking plaster on one of her fingers which is, instead of being flesh-coloured like a normal sticking plaster, bright blue.  I have not seen such a thing before.

Saturday April 15 2017

Late this afternoon, in Lower Marsh, I came across this classic oldie:

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I see a lot of vintage cars in Lower Marsh?  Why?

Finally, the penny dropped and I asked the Great Machine in the Sky.  I typed in “vintage cars lower marsh” and immediately learned about this.  Every month, the classic cars gather there:

We meet between 12:00 and 16:00 on the third Saturday of every month at the Lower Marsh Market – on Lower Marsh Street just behind Waterloo Station.

Yes, come to think of it, I always see them on a Saturday.

Mystery solved.

Saturday April 01 2017

I took this photo of a photoer, among many other photos of photoers, outside Buckingham Palace, exactly ten years ago today:

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It’s the best photo I took that day.  By which I mean that today it is the best photo I took that day.

What this guy is holding in his hands is the past (i.e ten years ago) and the future (i.e. today) of low-end digital photography.  He is using a now obsolete little digital camera of the kind people hardly use any more, to take his photos, back then on April 2nd 2007.  Dangling down below that is a mobile phone, which is what people mostly now use to take these kinds of photos.

DP Review explains, here.

Thursday March 30 2017

imageYesterday I put up sixty eight photos, of demo signs, in a big pile, four square photos wide, seventeen square photos high.  Below all these photos I wrote about, among other things, my fondness for large collections of photos of objects, each object the same, yet each object different.

Today, just the one photo, taken at the beginning of this month, but a similar effect.  Yellow emoji key rings, on sale in a tourist souvenir shop just outside Waterloo Station. The photo is five yellow emoji key rings wide and twenty four yellow emoji key rings high, plus a bit extra around the edge.  Click on the cropped version to get to the uncropped original.

I love to photo the stuff on sale in tourist souvenir shops, probably because the photos tend to have this same thing going for them: lots of things, each the same, but often each different, as here.  Well, there is quite a lot of repetition with these yellow emoji key rings but there is also lots of variety.  Buying just one of these yellow emoji key rings would be completely irrelevant to the pleasure that I get from this large array of yellow emoji key rings, because that would not be an array of yellow emoji key rings, just the one pointless, isolated yellow emoji key ring.  Only the array does it for me.  And who would want an actual array of such things.  No, the ideal arrangement is a photo.

This is probably some kind of psychological oddity of mine, along with me being a pathological collector and and an old git who is mostly content with his own company, who, on the whole, prefers photographing life and blogging about life as lived by others, to actually living his own life.  Someone recently told me I was borderline Asberger’s, or some such thing.  No offence was meant and none was taken, although I was a bit surprised, because it had never occurred to me before.  But this is probably right.

This is presumably all part of why I like blogging so much.  I collect blog postings, at a regular rate of one blog posting per day.  Each follows the same set of rules.  Each is different.  One posting alone would mean nothing.  Assemble them in an array and they start to add up to something.

At some magnifications the yellow emoji key ring array on the right was encroaching upon the posting below.  This short extra paragraph will sort that.

Wednesday March 29 2017

Last Saturday, I journeyed forth to check out a statue.  I’ve been reading this book, which got me interested in Frederick, Duke of York, second son of George III and C-in-C of the British Army, for real, not ceremonially.  A hugely important figure in British military history, apparently, and there is a statue of him at the top of a column, right across the road from where he used to work, where he used to work being a walk away from where I live.  I’ve always liked this statue, and its column, but had never, until now, given a thought to what the bloke at the top of it had done to deserve it, for deserve it he did.

But before I checked that out, I encountered, in Parliament Square, that big Anti-BREXIT demo, and since today is a rather important date, BREXIT-wise, I’ll leave the Duke of York to other days, and focus on that demo, and in particular on all the signs that I saw.  The light was very bright, so here, with many a shadow getting in the way, are most of the signs that I saw:

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Given that I personally voted BREXIT, why did I go to all the bother (and when I do this kind of thing it is a lot of bother) of showing all these snaps here?

Here are a few reasons:

I was struck by the enthusiasm and inventiveness and personal commitment on show, especially illustrated by the number of hand-done signs I saw.  This enthusiasm is a significant political fact of our time, I think, no matter what you think of it.  My personal opinion is that it is going to do terrible damage to the British left, in a sort of mirror image way to the damage that Britain’s participation in the EU did to the British right.  (See this posting and this posting, at Samizdata.)

Second, many people whom I like and respect, some of them people of the left but most of them not, nevertheless voted against BREXIT, for reasons I thoroughly respect.  Much of the motivation behind the vote against BREXIT was libertarian in spirit, and much of the motivation behind the vote for BREXIT was anti-libertarian in spirit.  I voted the way I did despite all that, because of my pessimism about the future development of the EU, and because in my opinion the EU brought out the very worst in our politicians and public officials.  Turned them all into a pack of bloody liars, basically.  But those who did not see it that way had their reasons.  This posting is my nod towards all those who disagreed with me in this great matter.

Third, this posting reflects a photographic enthusiasm of mine, which is for large sets of objects which are all of the same kind, yet all different from one another.  I reacted, photographically, to this demo, in the exact same way that I reacted to an NFL jamboree that I encountered a few years back, in Trafalgar Square, where I found myself snapping lots of NFL name-and-number shirts, likewise all the same yet all different.

And see also this demo.

I have included a few signs which verge on self-parody.  1.1: “I AM QUITE CROSS”, made me chuckle, and wonder whose side they were on.  As did 9.1 and 9.2, “Tut” and “DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING”, the latter being a sign that goes back to Father Ted.  11.2, “mewn” baffles me, though.  What is that?  Does it mean: me-EU-UN?

Thursday March 23 2017

Taking pictures like these, which I took earlier in the week, is really easy, if you have a twiddly screen, the way all my cameras have had, ever since I first got a camera with a twiddly screen:

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Imagine how to compose all those shots while looking vertically upwards, the way my camera was.

On a more serious note, what these photos illustrate is the design anarchy of London.  Individual buildings are designed.  Of course they are.  But there is little in the way of aesthetic coordination going on.

But, imagine if there was aesthetic coordination.  There would have to be an aesthetic coordinator, individual or collective.  And what if that coordinator made everything conform to a dreary design?  All those who say that London’s Big Things should be overseen by a Grand Designer all assume that the Grand Designer would impose a Grand Design they would like.  But Big Things are often very ugly, so the Grand Design might be ugly too.

No, I prefer anarchy, where each building does its own thing.  Successful styles are copied.  Failed styles gradually get phased out.  Okay, very gradually.

And each Big Thing developer gets to do what he wants to do with his own property.  The resulting anarchy is something I relish rather than regret.

Saturday March 18 2017

Indeed:

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Presumably they were selling stuff like this.

I like it when my pictures include clocks, and that clock is a particular favourite of mine.

Friday March 17 2017

My day in Highbury and Islington (and Canonbury) began with me not seeing much in the way of Big Things from Islington Highbury Fields.  But very quickly, I made my way to the north eastern end of New River Walk, and took the walk along it.

The thing is, Google Maps, what with it being so easy to change the scale of, can mislead about how far apart things are.  One Google map shows you a big area, that it will take you a day to explore properly.  But then, following further button pushing, another map, which looks like it is of an equally big area, is actually of a place you can be all over within less than two hours.  So it was last Monday.

Everything that day was smaller and more suburban and contrived and just nice, compared to what I had been expecting and compared to what the more northerly bits of the New River are like, when GodDaughter One and I checked them out, back in 2015.

In particular, the New River Walk turned out to be a piece of miniature canal that has been turned into a tiny, elongated version of Hyde Park, thanks to some lottery money that was bestowed upon it in the nineties, complete with fountains, and ducks, and carefully manicured footpaths, and views of nearby affluent houses and apartments, thus:

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It’s the sort of place I am happy to have visited just the once, to check out what it is.  But it isn’t really my kind of place.

But, this is Friday, and there were ducks.  And dogs.  Quite a lot of dogs actually.  Also lots of signs saying don’t let the dogs do dog do, or if the dogs do do dog do, then do tidy it up.

Thursday March 16 2017

It went on for a really long time, though.  The show kicked off at 4.30pm, and only ended at 10pm.  There were two intervals, each of just over half and hour.  I was careful to drink very sparingly beforehand.

During the overture, before the curtain went up, I also fretted that there might not be titles in English of what was about to be sung, which would mean me spending the best part of an entire working day of time trapped in a seat and bored out of my skull, with nothing to do except listen to not-my-favourite Wagner, with constant interruptions from singers, of a sort that I typically don’t much like the sound of.  And I further fretted that if there were such titles then we might not be able to read them, what with us being stuck right next to the roof about a quarter of a mile away from the action.  But all was well.  There were titles, and they were clearly readable.

A distressing effect of us sitting up at the back and the top, was that, what with the house being pretty much full and spring having got properly started during the last day or two, it became very hot for us.  I heard one middle aged lady complaining vehemently about the heat to some hapless programme girl during the second interval, and from then on it just got hotter and hotter.

Another drawback of sitting at the top and at the back, for me and my faltering eyesight, was that I couldn’t see properly who was who on the stage.  It was just too far away.  The titles told me the meaning of what was being sung, but omitted the rather crucial detail of which character was actually singing it.  In part one this was a real problem, because the stage was mostly full of similarly dressed and similar sounding bassy-baritony blokes of a certain age, the Mastersingers of the title.  It helped that, as the night wore on, there tended to be fewer people on the stage, and I thus found it easier to deduce who was singing than it had been in part one

But oh boy, Wagner certainly takes his time with this one.  It’s supposed to be a comedy, and occasionally it was.  But one of Wagner’s favourite jokes is that he signals that something is about to happen, but then whichever dithering bass-baritone is supposed to be getting on with it then takes another five minutes actually to do it, or to sing it, or whatever he is supposed to do.  This device peaked in the final act, when Mastersinger Sixtus Beckmesser takes an age to start his butchered version of the prize song, which he has stolen from the tenor.

Leading the caste was the noted (Sir) Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs - philosopher, poet, Mastersinger and cobbler.  I was disappointed by him.  Terfel’s voice in no way stood out during part one, with all its other bass-baritones, and one of the other bass-baritones, Mastersinger Pogner I think it was, sounded much better to me.  This was, I believe, this guy.

The tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, regularly complimented throughout the show on his beauty, was a fat middle-aged bloke who made a point of dressing down, rather than overdressing in the properly pompous Mastersinger style, at any rate in this production.  He looked, from my distant vantage point, more like a nightclub bouncer than a romantic lead.  But, and this is the only thing that really matters in opera, he sang brilliantly.  His voice was amazingly secure.  “Secure” sounds like damning with faint praise, but what I mean is that his voice combined the best qualities of a voice and a really well played musical instrument.  In this respect if in few others, yesterday was exactly like my earlier ROH experience, when tenor Joseph Calleja was also by far the best thing to be heard.  Hughes Jones’s performance of the prize song, right at the end, after Beckmesser’s mangling of it, was, as it should be, the musical highlight of the evening.

As with that earlier Verdi show, everyone else in this Meistersinger cast (apart from Pogner) made the usual operatic singing noises in the usual operatic ways, these usual operatic ways being the basic reason I mostly prefer classical music without singing, and as a rule avoid opera houses.  It isn’t just the crippling cost of the tickets.

There are two ways to sing opera badly.  You can sing with quite nice tone, but with far too much and far too slow and wobbly vibrato, to the point where neither pitch nor meaning are clear, even if you know the language.  Or, you can have less vibrato but a tone that sounds more like an industrial sawing process than a nice voice.  Last night, the singing wasn’t ever bad enough to be seriously off-putting to me, but there was more than a whiff of both styles on offer.  As often happens, the women were the worst wobblers.  And Bryn Terfel was the worst offender, to my ear, in the industrial sawing department, although perhaps the effect was made worse by me having been hoping for something better from him.  He did seem to get better as the evening wore on, although that could just be because both the music and the drama got better.  It got better very slowly, but it got better.

Die Meistersinger is a kind of pilgrimage, from old geezer fustiness to youthful brilliance as exemplified by the prize song, from light opera to heavy opera, from dreary pre-Wagnerian operatic frivolity, which Wagner could do only moderately well, to full-on Wagner, at which Wagner was, as you would expect, the supreme master. 

This production, especially in part one, was a bit off.  It was supposed to start in a church, but instead we were in a posh gentleman’s club, containing Mastersingers who looked more like affluent Victorian eccentrics than the real late-Middle-Ages deal.  Also, the ending was a bit un-Wagnerian, in that the lead soprano, Eva, wasn’t happy about the way the tenor was persuaded to join the Mastersingers, the way she surely was in Wagner’s mind when he wrote it.  But it was never freakishly stupid, like a Samuel Beckett play, and on the whole it didn’t just sound reasonably good, it looked very fine too.  Although Wagner takes an age to tell his story, there is at least a story to the thing that you care about.  Well, I did.  By the end.

Time to bust open the DVD of this opera that I have long possessed, having bought it for a tenner about a decade ago.  The early staging already looks much more convincing.

But, crucially, the tenor doesn’t sound, to me, nearly as good as the one I heard yesterday.  He really was something.

Tuesday March 14 2017

Tomorrow, my plan has been made for me.  I am to go to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, there to witness Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  Judging by the reviews of it that I’ve just been reading, this is yet another of those productions that sounds glorious, especially when nobody is singing, but looks silly.

Here is paragraph one of what The Times has to say, before its paywall gets in the way:

The best thing about this show - indeed the best thing I’ve experienced in a theatre all season - is Antonio Pappano’s superlative conducting and his orchestra’s stunning playing of Wagner’s epic score. The Royal Opera should rename the opera “Die Meisterinstrumentalisten”, except it might not fit on posters. This is a musical interpretation of exemplary fluidity and pace, stirring in the right places (abetted by a rampant chorus), but also precise, subtle and virtuosic. After five hours and some, I wanted to hear it all again. Possibly, however, with my eyes closed.

Here is what the Evening Standard says.  And here is the Guardian.  The Guardian being the Guardian, he admires it, or tries to.  But you can tell he didn’t really like it.

The consensus seems to be that the best way to be seeing this production is on the radio.

Why are so many operatic productions like this?  My guess is that the opera audience is fixed.  The same old people - to be fair, not all of them actually old - go again and again, to see every new production, provided they expect it to be sufficiently sensational to satisfy their rather jaded tastes.  The last thing they want is a straight production, telling like it originally was when first performed.  They crave novelty, frisson, “interpretation”, and the latest singers who are on the up and up, which is why the chosen few get paid such fortunes.

Why don’t opera houses put on more trad productions, that would make much better sense, especially to newcomers?  Probably because that wouldn’t actually attract newcomers.  There are no newcomers in this market waiting to be attracted, or not in remotely sufficient numbers.  Oddballs like me, who only go about once a decade, just do not signify, economically speaking.  People either join that time- and money-rich audience of addicts who just can’t get enough of this weird art, probably by being the rich offspring of existing audience members, and perhaps also by studying opera singing, at which point they go and go and keep on going.  Or, they don’t.  And mostly, they (we) don’t.  Trad productions would merely piss off the actual audience by being too dull for them, without attracting that fantasy audience of newcomers, of ordinary people.  Sorry Opera.  Nobody ordinary is interested.

I’m only going because of some internet ticket muddle, involving a friend.  No way would I pay the full wack.  I haven’t even dared to ask what that is.

It’s weird when you think about it.  Ours is the age of manic musical authenticity.  God help any conductor who dares to change a single note of the sacred score, to make it sound more relevant to a modern audience, blah blah.  Yet with the staging, you can do any damn thing you like, provided only that you do something out of the ordinary.  This Die Meistersinger is set in some kind of gentleman’s club.  Well, it could have been worse, far worse.  It could have been set on Mars, or in Beckmesser’s drugged imagination, or in a bordello or a space station or a 3D printing factory or a football stadium or in the car park of an opera house, or in some evil combination of several of those things.

I hope I’m wrong about tomorrow’s show.  It sounds like it will at least sound really good.  And I might not hate the solo singing, or not all of it.  (I love good choral singing.) And there may even be bits of it that I like the look of.  Wish me luck.

Friday March 10 2017

Whenever I encounter interesting vehicles, of which London possesses a great many, I try to photo them.  Taxis with fun adverts.  Diverting white vans.  Crane lorries.  That kind of thing.

In particular I like to photo ancient cars.  And, I also like to photo modern cars which are styled to look like ancient cars, like this one:

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This is the Mitsubishi Pajero Jr. Flying Pug.  How do I know that?  Because I also went round the back and took this photo:

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Is a pug a non-feline creature?  Sounds like a non-feline creature to me.

More about this eccentric vehicle here:

On sale for just three years between 1995 and 1998, it sold reasonably well and has been popular as a grey import. None of which explains what on Earth Mitsubishi was thinking when it devised this horror show, the special edition Flying Pug.

The Japanese have always loved old, British cars. Through the Nineties it was one of the biggest markets for the original Mini, but retro pastiches had become popular as well, led by the Nissan Micra-based Mitsuoka Viewt, which looked a bit like a miniature Jaguar Mark II.

Mitsubishi thought it would jump on the bandwagon. Out of all the cars it made, Mitsubishi decided the Pajero Jr would be the best platform. Ambitiously, the brochure said it had “the classic looks a London taxi.” In fact, it looked more like the absolutely gopping Triumph Mayflower.

The press thought it was ugly and the buying public agreed. Mitsubishi planned to build 1,000 Flying Pugs, but just 139 found homes. The deeply weird name can’t have helped, but Japanese-market cars are notorious for it; another special edition Pajero Jr was christened McTwist.

I agree that “Flying Pug” is a strange name.  And I agree that the Flying Pug doesn’t look much like a London taxi.  But it resembles the Triumph Mayflower even less.

I also do not agree that either the Flying Pug or the Triumph Mayflower are ugly.  And they are definitely not, to my eye, “absolutely gopping”, or a “horrow show”.  Each to his own.

But I do like the fact that I photoed a car of which there are only one hundred and thirty nine copies in existence.

Wednesday March 08 2017

Yesterday I did a Dezeen based posting here, and now I just did another.  But when two thirds through doing it, I realised it would do just as well for Samizdata.  All that needed adding was a bit of cringeing at the end to the effect that it could all be bollocks.  (Everything here could be bollocks.  That’s assumed.) So, Samizdata is where it went.

Title: A flying car that makes sense.  Dezeen posting I was reacting to, very favourably: here.

Are you one of my London libertarian friends.  Don’t forget the talk I will be hosting at the end of this month (March 31) given by Chris Cooper, about our new robot overlords.

Tuesday March 07 2017

So I had a look around Dezeen to see what’s there that’s interesting, and their most popular posting right now is about IKEA.  All I saw, for several days, was: IKEA.  So I ignored it.  But on close inspection, the posting is actually rather interesting.  Its title is: IKEA switches to furniture that snaps together in minutes without requiring tools.

Quote:

The fiddly ritual of assembling IKEA furniture is set to become a thing of the past as the furniture giant introduces products that snap together “like a jigsaw puzzle”.

The brand has developed a new type of joint, called a wedge dowel, that makes it much quicker and simpler to assemble wooden products. This does away with the need for screws, bolts, screwdrivers and allen keys.

My chosen destinations for furniture are charity shops, mostly.  That or basic second hand places.  Partly that’s an aesthetic preference.  I take pride in the cheapness of my living arrangements, that being my preferred look.  But part of that is because I have always assumed that flatpack furniture is indeed too fiddly and complicated to be relying on.  Also, frankly, I basically just don’t like IKEA’s furniture.

But for those who do like IKEA furniture, it looks like it is about to get a bit simpler to assemble.

Thought.  Does Lego make furniture?  I just googled that question, and google answer number one was this:

A company is making furniture that is like giant Lego for your home:

This furniture is designed to be taken apart over and over again.

It is called Mojuhler and is flatpack, modular furniture that can be changed from a chair to a table in minutes.

You can fund the project on Kickstarter from about £80.

Nice basic idea, but scroll down and you get to pictures of brackets and screws!  Screw all that, and not with a screwdriver.  It looks more like Meccano than Lego, I’d say.  It says on the right at that place that it failed to get its funding.  If that’s right, I’m not surprised.

This is more what I was thinking.

One of the basic drivers of design is the desire to own bigger versions of the stuff you played with as a little kid.  A lot of Art is like this, I believe.  So, why not furniture too?

Tuesday February 21 2017

I like London’s (England’s?) long, thin, very vertical, outdoor maps.  Whenever I am out and about photoing, I photo them:

image

There’s nothing like a photo of a map with “You are here” on it, to tell you exactly where you were.  That’s where I was, early on, on the day I later took these pictures.

Seriously, it is often quite difficult to work out exactly where I was when I look through the products of one of my photographic perambulations.  This kind of snap turns it from difficult to obvious.

Especially if you can actually see the bit where it says “You are here”, like this:

image

I’ve recently been on several expeditions to this intriguing part of London, with its convoluted waterways.  Maps are nice, but there’s no substitute for actually being there.  With a camera.

Monday February 20 2017

I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:

image

Guess what it is.  If in doubt, look at the categories list below.  Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.

Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this.  But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.