Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Brian Micklethwait on Photographers by the river
Darren on Photographers by the river
Laban on Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington's Amazing Castle
Laban on Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington's Amazing Castle
Ed Harris on May 2005 was my first big month for photoing photoers
Mr.FC on An extraordinary coincidence
6000 on A smartphone wearing sunglasses
Brian Micklethwait on What writing for Samizdata should now (for me) mean
Brian Micklethwait on The Shard was looking very special today
Perry de Havilland on What writing for Samizdata should now (for me) mean
Most recent entries
- A blast from the photographic past
- Don’t mention The Wires!!! in South Korea either!
- My next camera?
- How David Irving put himself on trial
- Credit where credit is due (in France)
- Zorb football
- Palestra House – then and now
- May 2005 was my first big month for photoing photoers
- White cat – Mick Hartley’s photos and other photos he likes – black and white and colour
- Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington’s Amazing Castle
- Photographers by the river
- When David Irving called a British Judge “Mein Fuhrer”
- Tomorrow I will get out less
- London dragon
- Sunlight (selectively) on roof clutter
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Category archive: Signs and notices
Certainly in London and I presume everywhere else in Britain, when you see lots of verbiage attached to the outside of a building site, it tends to be health and safety stuff, of the sort shown in this posting, which I did here in February 2011. (That was the very first posting I did with the category “Signs and notices” attached to it.)
In the summer of that same year, I was in France, where I took the picture that follows. But I never got around to displaying it here. Here it is now:
This is a sign that I saw adorning the outside of a French building site.
To me, it resembles nothing so much as the credits at the end of a movie. Every imaginable contributor to the building process is painstakingly listed. Click if you want to be able to read everything more clearly.
Although I am sure I might be persuaded otherwise (for instance by people with knowledge of the relative merits of the actual work that tends to be done in each country), I think the contrast is rather in France’s favour.
In France, everything that has been done, and by whom, is listed. Presumably it has been done in a manner to make the people who did it glad to have their names in, as it were, lights. In Britain, every imaginable thing that might go wrong is listed, in the form of an imprecation that people not do this. It’s the difference between being proud of what is being done, and being nothing but apologetic about it.
Right at the end, though, it does say: “chantier interdet au public, port du casque obligatoire”. This means (unless the internet has gravely deceived me): “access forbidden to the public, helmet obligatory”. So, a bit of health and safety nagging there. But that’s all there is.
In Britain, you also sometimes get a rather shorter list of the grander and more professional of the enterprises people who are doing the job, but not nearly so much is made of this, compared to all the stuff about being ever so, ever so careful.
When G(od)D(aughter) 1 and I left the Park View Cafe, the weather was still grim, as you can see in this picture, which is of an amazing building which we encountered just a few yards down the road:
I was amazed. But so amazed enough that I forgot to take a closer photo of all that signage so I could look it up later.
What is it? And more to the point, what was it? Because nobody says “We need a place to do indoor pretend rock climbing” and builds themselves something like that.
For a small district, Stoke Newington is endowed with a generous amount of open space. To its north, there is the extensive West Reservoir, now a non-working facility, but open for leisure and surrounded by greenspace, at the entrance to which is the architecturally bizarre Castle Climbing Centre, once the main Water Board pumping station. It was designed, by William Chadwell Mylne, to look like a towering Scottish castle.
There should be more fake castles of this sort. Why don’t people build such things now? You’d think with all the current fascination with fantasy movies, Harry Potter, and so forth, there’d be rock and roll royalty queueing up to erect more stuff like this. Do they not even try? Or, do they try, but are they then rebuffed by boring local planning committees, frightened that if they allowed such things, before you knew it, everyone would be building whatever they liked.
“Castle Climbing Centre” ought to mean a Centre where you learn to Climb Castles. But, it doesn’t.
I’ve been giving attention to and often photoing white vans lately, and am starting to notice interesting things about them, of which more in due course. (Maybe. I promise nothing.)
But meanwhile, Fridays here have not, lately, seen much in the cat category, which is a thing I like to do on Friday.
So, a picture of a white van with a picture of a cat on it would seem to be in order.
I have yet to photograph such a thing myself, but I did find just such a picture of just such a white van, here. But alas, the cat was on it for a not very internetty sort of reason:
There’s lots of cat related stuff on the www, but this is an aspect of cats and the keeping of them that typically gets omitted. All is cuteness. Spaying is ... not cute.
Take a train from … anywhere, into Waterloo. Exit your train, and go through the barriers. Turn right in the big concourse and carry on walking until you have gone as far as you can go, and you get to an exit. Step outside. You are in “Station Approach”:
I’ve messed with the visuals there, to make “Station Approach” readable.
You are wisely prevented by some railings from stepping out into Station Approach itself and being run down by a taxi. But turn right out of the exit, and make your way a few dozen yards along the narrow pavement, to the point in Station Approach where you can cross the road, to some steps that lead down into “Spur Road”. (The steps are right next to the S of Spur Road, in the image above.) But, don’t go down these steps. Stay at the top of the steps and enjoy the view.
To the far left, you can see the Walkie Talkie. To the far right, the Spray Can. Between them is the sprawl of south-of-the-river London.
It’s one of my favourite London panoramas, if only because everyone else who ever sets foot in this place is either in a hurry to get somewhere else, or in a hurry to catch a train. Nobody talks about this view, the way they do of the view from such places as Parliament Hill or the top of some of London’s big or even not so big buildings
What stops this view being talked up as a “view” is the prominence of all the foreground clutter. In the background, there are Big Things to be observed, but they do not tower over the foreground. If anything, the foreground clutter dominates them. Even the Shard is an almost diffident, even sometimes (depending on the light) spectral presence rather than a “tower”. Recently there was a TV documentary about the Tower of London, and the impact of it and the Shard, each in and on their time, was compared. The message was that the Tower then was like the Shard now. But these two buildings could hardly be more different. The Tower then was telling London then that the Tower was the boss. The Shard now politely concedes to London now that London is the boss.
And of course I love this view, because I love London’s clutter, especially roof clutter, and I love it when Big Things can be seen between and beyond the clutter, without necessarily dominating:
Those shots were all taken within moments of one another, just over a week ago, on a sunny afternoon, the same sunny afternoon I took this.
Stations are great linear photo-opportunities. This is because railway tracks have to be pretty much dead level. If the lie of the land is high, the tracks have to be lower, and if the lie of the land is low, the tracks have to be higher, which is also convenient because it enables the railway to jump over the roads on bridges and viaducts rather than compete with them at such things as level crossings. This causes the platforms of many a station to be at roof level rather than at ground level.
Level crossings will get road traffic across a mere double track out in the country, but are hopeless for getting past the tracks out of Waterloo, one of the world’s busiest railway stations. The traffic would wait for ever. So, bridges and viaducts it is, and that means that Waterloo Station itself is dragged up to regular London roof level. So even if you can’t see anything from Waterloo Station itself, you can from just outside it. You can from Station Approach. Well, I can, because I want to.
Spent day doing other things, so quota photo time, but from the archives:
Taken in June 2005. I don’t understand mobile phones, but presumably things have changed since the above arrangements were advertised.
But how about that war that either Britain, or Europe, had with France? I don’t remember that. Seriously, I wonder what on earth that was about.
Presumably “Paris” doesn’t include La Défense, which is out on the edge of Paris. Those Big Things are very big indeed. What they’re talking about here is building Big Things in the centre of Paris.
And the thing is, this Thing not very tall at all:
In London, this sort of thing would hardly be noticed.
But the fact that this new Thing is not that big is deliberate.
“This project is not a high-rise, but embodies a shift in attitude, and this gradual increase marks a willingness to reconsider the potential of height and will change the city landscape little by little,” said the architects.
They know that if they are to get any new truly Big Things anywhere near the centre of Paris, the first step is to make some things that are not Big, but just a tiny bit bigger. First you get the opposition to concede the principle, with something that doesn’t arouse huge opposition. Then you gradually increase the heights, until finally you get your Big Things, and the opposition unites too late. And by then it’s too small, because lots of people actually like the new Big Things. This is how politics is done. And this is politics.
The last, and so far only new and truly Big Thing anywhere near the middle of Paris (other than the Eiffel Tower) is the Montparnasse Tower, which was completed in 1973. Compared to almost everything else in central Paris, before or since, the Montparnasse Tower is very tall indeed. It aroused a lot of opposition by embodying such an abrupt, even contemptuous, change of Paris skyscraper policy, and judging by what happened for the next forty years, that opposition was very successful. This time around, those who want Big Parisian Things are going about it more carefully, as the above quote shows.
Speaking of politics, who is that geezer in the picture, in the picture? A politician, I’ll bet.
I am working on a quite big and unwieldy architecture posting just now, but this probably won’t be ready to go any time today, or even soon, so I’ll instead write a little essay on a related matter. Which is: Why I feel more comfortable writing about architecture, of the contemporary and hence controversial sort, than I do about contemporary interior design. The contrast between how fascinated I am by the architectural stuff (this is the posting that got me going with the architectural posting that I am now working on) at one of my favourite internet sites, Dezeen, and the indifference I feel concerning Dezeenery about interior matters, is becoming ever more extreme. I mean, designer X has designed a chair. And what does it look like? It looks like a chair. Hoo ray.
It’s not that I dislike or oppose interior design. It’s just that I feel that what I feel about it, or for that matter what anybody else feels about it, is of no public significance. We can all just pick whatever interior designs and objects appeal to us, and let others do the same. Interior design is not a political problem. There is therefore nothing vitally important to be said about it. Why argue, when there is no need to argue?
If you are one of those people who likes to tease out why you feel the way you do, about everything in general and interior design in particular, fine. Blog away about wallpaper, tea kettles, tables, chairs, standard lamps, stoves and suchlike, all you like. You’ll surely find plenty of readers, probably a great many more than I have. You certainly will if you specialise, as I do not. I write about such things myself, from time to time, when the mood takes me.
But on the whole, it tends not to. When the answer the question is: each to his own, and when that answer basically takes care of it, I generally don’t feel like adding very much.
You could say that this mood, of insignificant self-scrutiny, is upon me right now. After all, who cares what I put on my blog? If you don’t like it, don’t read it, problem solved. Choosing a blog to read is like choosing a chair. Nobody else need be consulted, or imposed upon.
But architecture is different. We can’t each step outside into a city like London and each have exactly the London that we want. If I am to have those new Big Things that I like so much, you also have to put up with them, even if you hate them. It therefore feels right to me to be explaining, to the entire world (even if most of the world pays no attention), just what it is about these Big Things that I like so much. It makes sense for me to say (even if I haven’t done much of this lately) why I came to hate most modernistical architecture when I was in my twenties, and why I think that modernistical architecture has improved so very, very much since that time, at any rate in the places I mostly walk about in and see in photos.
For the same reason, it also makes sense, to me, for me to be celebrating roof clutter, cranes, this or that piece of public or semi-public sculpture, these or those public signs. It is because these are public issues. Political issues, even. Definitely political, in the case of those signs I just linked to. Things like these have positive (mostly, in my case) or negative (perhaps in yours) externalities attached to them.
Actually, it is most unlikely that you hate all the publicly obtrusive things that I love, because you wouldn’t want to be reading such opinions, day after day. But, you get my point.
In the early, at first brightly sunlit evening I went walking by the river, over Vauxhall Bridge and then turning right on the other side, towards Battersea.
I noted progress on the new flats. The sky was a beautiful colour. The flats are not a beautiful colour:
The river was adorned by bright reflections off the buildings on the far side.
The evening sun also lit up the bright green wall that keeps the river in its correct place:
There is a new US Embassy taking shape, …:
… although it will not be a very interesting shape:
Battersea Power Station is missing one of its chimneys:
This is probably something to do with the fact that it is having dwellings built in it:
And, when I looked inland, towards the south, over the railway, I saw some world class roof clutter:
So I was in a good mood. Until, on my way back home, I saw this:
Yes, there is an election coming, and we will all vote in such a way as to try to deny office to the political party we most hate, which in my case is the Labour Party. Which means I will probably vote for the bastards advertising themselves with the signs above.
As you can see, by then it had become rather gloomy. As had I.
Yesterday, while walking along the sharp right kink at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I do a lot, I looked up into the bright blue sky and beheld things of colourful beauty. What do you suppose it is?:
Does this make it any clearer?:
Clear for those to whom it is now clear, but still not very clear for most, is my guess.
Yes, it’s a Big 4. And if you still don’t know what it is, apart from it being a Big 4, it is the Big 4 outside the fantastically over-the-top front door of Channel 4 TV HQ.
This Big 4 has changed a lot over the years. (You can see a few of those changes in among all this google-search-imagery.) Different artists and designers have taken it in turns to adorn its metal skeleton in a succession of different colours and costumes. The above is merely the latest iteration of this process. And definitely one of the better ones, I think.
I like how the colours all vanish once you get straight in front of the 4, and all you get is a relatively bland white 4. The effect is calculated to resemble the fleeting glimpse of the 4 that you get in the various intros you see just before Channel 4 shows on the telly. Note also how the sun at that particular later afternoon time of day picked out the white bits of the Big 4, while leaving the stuff behind it in relative darkness. I still don’t really understand how this happened, but I definitely like it.
The bad news, however, is that to get that particular Big 4 picture from the exact right place, you need to be standing in the middle of the road that turns south off Horseferry Road, past the left hand side of C4HQ, as we look at it, and at exactly the spot where the pavement would have been, right next to Horseferry Road itself.
So, finally, what we now see is the exact moment when a car came up right behind me and honked loudly, anxious to get past me and out of Horseferry Road instead of being stuck right in it, and honked at in its turn by angry cars behind it.
I immediately jumped out of the car’s way, and it politely waved thankyou as soon as it had made its slightly relieved way past me.
A lot of cars deliver and collect a lot of people to and from that exact spot, and they must get this a lot.
It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed. So, another sign:
But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.
Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.
Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.
I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:
What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves. Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here. But at first, the English weren’t buying. I mean, “magic”? Could be anything or nothing. Hypnosis? Pills? Herbalism? Magic mud of some sort? Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.
But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.
Around ten days ago, I took lots of rest (the medical term for sleeping) during the day, and then couldn’t sleep properly at night. Since then the lurgy has persisted and I haven’t really got back to sane hours.
In the meantime, what did not help - did not help at all - was the latest from Madame Harry Potter, who now, some of the time, goes by the name of Robert Galbraith. I read the first Cormoran Strike tale when it came out, and a few days back I was awake all night reading number two. It was daylight when I finished it.
One of the many things I like about Cormoran Strike is that he operates in London. His lair is a flat on top of one of the shops in Denmark Street, which is London’s pop musical instrument street.
Here is a clutch of Denmark Street photos I took recently:
Lots of amateurish reflections there, in among the occasional deliberate ones, but what the hell? I am an amateur. (Spot the selfie.)
That grey-blue front door (on the right of the picture bottom middle) is how I imagine/presume Strike’s front door to look.
Having kept up with all the Rebus books, I found it much more fun actually knowing a lot of the places haunted by The Detective. And with this in mind, I have now started on this first crime novel by Tony Parsons. All this searching has just told me that it is the first of three. This is (these are) also set in London. This morning I was reading about The Detective visiting something called Westminster Public Mortuary in Horseferry Road, which is a five minute walk away from where I live. (The Tony Parsons detective is called DC “Max Wolfe”. Why can’t fictional detectives ever be called something like Colin Snail or Brian Sludge or John Watson?)
“Robert Galbraith“‘s Cormoran Strike is a freelance, but Max Wolfe is regular police, so he often visits New Scotland Yard, which is not much further away from me than that Mortuary, another five minutes walk in the same direction. Here is a photo I took of New Scotland Yard from the roof of my block, in 2006:
London possesses roof clutter arrays that are denser and more voluminous, but none that I know of is more elegant.
Yesterday I visited a shop called Tiger in Tottenham Court Road. Here is the sign about it that sticks out into the road, even though what I thought I was photoing at the time was the Wheel:
That’s actually one of my favourite views of the Wheel, because it is so weird and unexpected. We’re looking south along Tottenham Court Road, with Centre Point on the left as we look. You hear people seeing this, and saying: Oh look, the Wheel. Wow.
Tiger has lots of stuff in it, which I haven’t time to tell you about now but will hope to do Real Soon Now. But what I will say (today) is that, after a bit of searching, I found cats, in the shapes of: a cat mat, some cat suitcases, and some tigers:
Too knackered to say more now. Suffice it to say that Tiger is a veritable cornucopia of cheap and cheerful stuff.
Following on from yesterday’s White Van, here is another White Van, which marks the moment when I first started really noticing these things. It was parked outside an office just round the corner from my front door:
Let’s take a closer look at the driver’s door of this White Van. Because the exact moment when the whole White Van thing clicked inside my head was when I saw, and photoed, this:
There you go. They’re having a laugh about White Van Man. I told you it was a thing.
This happened on December 17th of last year, which was about a month after the Shadow Ministress did her tweet that cost her her shadow job. But they’ve been driving around in that joke since well before all that, as this blog posting from April of last year proves.
And I know this got me thinking about White Vans, because the very next photos I took were of this:
I had been noticing this other White Van hanging around near my home, but until that moment I had not considered it something worth photoing. Then, I did. And, off an on, I’ve been photoing such vans ever since, although few of them as lavishly decorated as that one.
Ever since that ruckus when a Labour Shadow Cabinet Ministress got into hot water with a tweet which involved a White Van, I’ve been photoing White Vans. And, in fact, I think I have been doing this since before that little drama. This White Van, photoed by me today in the Covent Garden area, is one of my favourites so far:
The point is, White Vans have rather gone up in the world. Lots of them now come with much carefully designed décor and info. London now abounds with fleets of White Vans thus decorated, white being the preferred colour by far. It’s like an automotive uniform.
It’s as if White Vans have a sort of macho-stroke-ironic appeal to those who drive them, and to the rest of us. The drivers, when asked what they do for a living, can say: I drive a White Van. Oh, ha ha ha! But no, not one of those White Vans, the sort they have in Essex. Oh no.
Or alternatively, if the driver is a genuine White Van Man, with no irony involved, of the sort that lady politician was having a go at, he’s happy too, even if he would probably prefer plain white, rather than all that poncey verbiage. And he’d rather have sacks of cement or tubs of plaster in the back there, rather than nerdy SF stuff.
Well, not sure about that. But White Vans are definitely, as they say nowadays, a thing.