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: Signs and notices

Monday December 05 2016

On my way to Tottenham, a week ago today, my first stop was Seven Sisters on the Victoria Line, where I changed to the regular railway in order to travel onwards:

image

But who, I wondered while I waited for my next train, were those Seven Sisters?  I made a note to self – written only on my brain cells, but it worked nevertheless – to search out the answer.  Which is easy these days.

Here it is:

The name is derived from seven elms which were planted in a circle with a walnut tree at their centre on an area of common land known as Page Green.  The clump was known as the Seven Sisters by 1732.

In his early seventeenth-century work, Brief Description of Tottenham, local vicar and historian William Bedwell singled out the walnut tree for particular mention. He wrote of it as a local ‘arboreal wonder’ which ‘flourished without growing bigger’. He described it as popularly associated with the burning of an unknown Protestant.  There is also speculation that the tree was ancient, possibly going back as far as Roman times, perhaps standing in a sacred grove or pagan place of worship

The location of the seven trees can be tracked through a series of maps from 1619 on.  From 1619 they are shown in a position which today corresponds with the western tip of Page Green at the junction of Broad Lane and the High Road.  With urbanisation radically changing the area, the ‘Seven Sisters’ had been replanted by 1876, still on Page Green, but further to the east.  Contemporary maps show them remaining in this new location until 1955.

So: trees.  I was hoping for actual sisters.

Friday December 02 2016

Friday is the day here for cats and other creatures, so here, among other things, is a panda:

image

What this photo illustrates is the perennial problem of trying to chuck stuff out, which is that all too often, stuff is just too nice to chuck out.

I recall, a year or two after the Berlin Wall was dismantled, meeting an Eastern European lady, who complained about how the packages and pots and bottles in which produce was suddenly now sold was too good to chuck out.  Bloody capitalism.  Capitalist rubbish was better than what they had previously had as actual stuff.

In a modified form, I now suffer from this syndrome.  It has crept up on me more gradually, but throughout my lifetime, packaging has been getting ever better, probably because it is the sort of industry that politicians disapprove of, and have hence left to its own devices, an industry’s own devices invariably being better than any device devised by politicians.  The packaging industry, not having been “helped”, has thrived.

Beer bottles (the one in the picture still has beer in it so that will be consumed first), I have learned not to miss.  But even they are sometimes so artfully designed that it seems wrong to throw them away.

The coffee jar I will keep, because coffee jars are so structurally impressive.

But that panda has got to go.

Sunday November 27 2016

Or maybe it has been invented and the answer is it’s called lots of little flat screen televisions.

This thought was provoked by seeing this picture, at Mick Hartley‘s:

image

There’s nothing wrong with this Big Thing that painting it entertainingly wouldn’t put right, in fact very right indeed.  It could become a well-loved landmark, if only it was spruced up a bit, with some bright colours.  This Big Thing is called the Edificio Torres Blancas, and it is in Madrid.  In Spain they like bright colours, right?

But, what bright colours?  The answer is to copy what they now do in Trafalgar Square, with that Fourth Plinth.  In Trafalgar Square, they have solved the problem of what to put on the Fourth Plinth by keeping on changing it.  That way, everyone gets to like some of the objects they put on the Plinth, and that way everyone who dislikes what is there now can comfort themselves with the thought that it will soon be gone.  All can photo the ones they like and ignore the rest.  Eventually, a winner may be declared.  Eventually, a thing will be put there that seems to right, to so many people, that it will be decided to keep that thing there for ever.

That’s what they should do with the colouring of the above Big Thing in Madrid.

So, techies, get to work.  What we need is a new sort of paint that you just slap on, but whose colours, down to the minutest detail, can then be controlled by a big old computer at ground level.

Or, this is already possible, as the advertisers are now proving with their changeable screens, and all that it missing is that this is, for a mere building, as opposed to a commercially profitable message, for the time being, too expensive.

Also, maybe the architect is still alive and vetoing any such notions, insisting that his masterpiece remain blancas, or failing that then at least grey all over.  Time will soon correct this sorry state of affairs, if state of affairs it be.

Saturday November 19 2016

I recommend clicking on this:

image

What’s so entertaining about what you get is how commonplace the building is.  How small.  How suburban.

Ah, but if you go down to the basement, and if you can persuade them to give you the key to the purple door (which they won’t but you never know your luck), then in the act of entering, you step through a wormhole and find yourself at the huge BIS base that orbits around Alpha Centauri, which is like the Clapham Junction of our part of the Milky Way.

Meanwhile, this deceptively humdrum little place, disguised as a mere space travel fan club, is to be found a short walk across the river away from my home.

I took my photos of this building and its amusing sign on the same day I took this photo and these photos and this photo and this photo.  That was a good expedition.  Not as good as the expeditions the inner core of the British Interplanetary Society go on, from time to time (think about that), but good.

Friday November 18 2016

Ah the countryside, where the other creatures - other than cats, I mean - live:

image

And contribute about as much to the world as most cats do, by the look of them.

Actually this is not really the countryside.  It is north east London.  To be more exact, it is the gap between the King George’s Reservoir and the William Girling Reservoir, which is named after William Girling, who was the Chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board at the time of the reservoir’s opening.

I found myself in this spot in the summer of 2015, and don’t worry, I had a destination in mind that was nothing to do with horses.  I was on my way to Yardley Hill, to take photos like this:

image

As I made my way towards Chingford Station, I also came upon a horse, wondering whether to kick a dog or run away from it.  And I also encountered an Indian elephant, outside an Indian restaurant:

imageimageimageimageimage

But I kept well clear of the cattle.

Friday November 04 2016

The human eye comes with a brain attached, a brain which continuously works out what is actually there, as opposed to how things merely look.  But the camera is stupid.  It sees everything but understands nothing.  It does not cut out what doesn’t matter.

So, when a camera takes a picture like this ...:

image

… it shows the sign, but it also shows all the stupid lighting effects that are messing with the sign.

It also shows weird lighting effects above and beyond the sign, which perhaps you hadn’t noticed, until I told you to look for them.  Your brain may have cut that out, because it doesn’t have anything to do with the sign and you were concentrating on the sign.

But now do what I did next, when I realised what was really going on here.  Having acquired the photography habit, I have become visually stupid, which means that I now see more, almost like a camera does.

Feast your eyes on this:

image

I am not sure if the above photo was the best I took of this effect, or the below photo.  So I post both:

image

This was, I think, the single most remarkable thing I saw on my walk from Battersea Park station back to my home, last Wednesday afternoon.

From the above photos, you may be able to deduce what is causing this, but I’ll save you the bother of working it out.  Here is the next photo I took:

image

And here is another photo which makes everything even clearer, that I got from the internet:

image

It’s the curvature of the surface off which the sunlight is bouncing that does it.  That separates the blobs of light from each window into distinct columns, creating a parthenonic magnificence that would, with a flat wall of windows, have been just a big jumble.  That would have been pretty good, but what we actually see is something else again.  And yet, when I was photoing this, I was the only one paying attention to this amazing light show.  Everyone else just walked past it, like it wasn’t there.  This was because, thanks to their brains, it actually wasn’t there.

The internet ought to be able to correct such failures to notice.  But the strange thing is, if you google the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, all you get is a lot of stuff about dogs and cats.  No mention at all of this amazing special effect.  The modern world has its priorities badly skewed.

I have photoed similar lighting effects before, such as the one reported in this posting.  But that one is put completely in the shade by this one.

Categories below include Transport.  That’s because all this drama was to be seen on a manky old railway viaduct.  Which I actually think made it look better.  (All everyone else saw was a manky old railway viaduct.)

Tuesday November 01 2016

The weather forecast says that tomorrow will be a beautiful day, and I intend to spend it: out.  But where?

I promise nothing, but at present I am inclined towards visiting one of those delightful roof level London railway stations, along which one may perambulate, lining up Big Things with each other, namely …:

image

I’ve not been there lately.  As you can see if you look at that carefully, and if you know your London Big Things, that photo was photoed quite a while ago, when the Gherkin stood in isolated splendour, uninterrupted by such things as the Cheesegrater, and when the Shard of Glass was but a concrete stump.  Six years ago, to be more exact.

After hoovering up all the views to be seen from there, I then have in mind to wander back toward Vauxhall, past all the new US Embassy and Battersea Power Station excitements, towards the Oval and surrounding parts, and see what I see.

There is a park there, south of the Oval, that I’ve never checked out before.  Parks are also good for seeing Big Things, because parks, if you stand on the far side of them, have no big intervening objects between you and the distance.

Friday October 28 2016

Indeed:

image

Leake Street, October 19th.  Probably still there, as of right now, but quite possibly already painted over.

I do not know why the cat is saying: “4”.  Some sort of golfing reference?

Tuesday October 25 2016

Incoming from Michael Jennings: One for you.

It certainly is.  Apparently, in Mexico, Uber is using drones to advertise itself, by having them hover, with signs, over traffic jams:

image

Drones to carry adverts, or signs.  But of course.  The possibilities are endless, and the probability is: lots of complaining, drone destruction, car crashes blamed on drones carrying adverts or signs, etc.

Imagine it.  You are going at a speed considered too fast by the Big Computer in the Sky, so it sends a drone out to fly out in front of you, telling you to slow down or be fined.  Or more probably, just telling you that you have already have been fined.  Ah, modern life.  Science fiction just never sees it coming.

By the way, what is that sign saying?

Friday October 21 2016

Friday was the day here for cats, but now I have widened it to all kinds of creatures, cats included.

This week, a snake!  On a vintage car!

I took these pictures in the square next to Quimper Cathedral, in the summer of 2008:

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

The snake is most clearly to be seen in pictures 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.3.  I think it must be some sort of air intake, for the engine, or for something.  But what do I know?

Berliet seems to be an enterprise that makes lorries these days.  But if you scroll down through the images you get when you type “berliet” into google images, you start to see vintage cars, in among the more recent lorries.

If you scroll down at this site, you get to something that looks like the above vehicle.  And if it is the same vehicle, or something very similar, then it is a 1907 Berliet C2 Double-Phaeton, or something very similar.

There’s a number plate on the front of my Berliet, which says: 1909 VS 29.  I thought that might be a clue, rather than, you know, a number plate, so I tried “Berliet 1909 VS 29” with google images, and guess what I found.  A Berliet “Double Phaeton” at a car museum in Malaga.

I even found a photo of the car in question, with a ludicrously long internet address attached to it, which I now offer you, in the hope that it works

Well, the link does seem to work, but if it doesn’t, take my word for it.  Although this is not the same car as my one above, it is very similar.  So similar that the car in the Andalusian museum also has, just like my car has, attached to its side, with its mouth wide open, sucking in air, … a snake.  Weird.

Thursday October 13 2016

I recently photoed this van:

image

What intrigued me about it was its minimalist propaganda message.  “GREY MOTH”.

My original thought was that, in the age of google, you don’t actually need a mass of information to find out all you want to know about an enterprise.  That’s what this posting was going to be about.  (I still remember fondly that van outside the Oval, which just said “VOITH”.  I quickly learned all about VOITH.)

Trouble is, if the name of the enterprise is “GREY MOTH”, and you google “grey moth”, well, in addition to the GREY MOTH enterprise, somewhere in there, you get lots and lots of grey moths.  (If you google “voith”, all you get is VOITH.  A voith is not a regular thing, from which the VOITH enterprise merely took its name.)

Luckily, however, there was a website on the van, front and back.  This website was back to front at the front, ambulance style, but I was still able to decypher it as: www.grey-moth.com, crucially including that all-important hyphen.  Which, as you see, gets us where we need to be.  And it turns out to be a very interesting business.  I was thinking that it would be some dreary fashion enterprise, but not a bit of it.  Turns out, it’s an aerial videoing business, using drones.

I’ve been keeping an eye on drones for a while.  And after initially wondering if I might ever buy one, I eventually concluded: no.  If you get a drone, then you will either have to take it very seriously and learn all about how to do it, and become a full-time droner, mastering not only all the technical problems of drones but also the many legal minefields that droners must walk across (safety and privacy to name but two).  Or: not.  And I decided: not.

Drones, in other words, are not toys.  But, they are a huge business opportunity, both for businesses that can make serious use of them, like farms or pop concert promoters or movie-makers, and for people willing to master drone use for a living and to hire themselves out.  Like Grey-Moth does.

Speaking of minimalist propaganda, those Guys & Dolls Unisex Hair Stylists look like they are ("UYS DOL S") on their last hair curlers, if not already gone.

Monday October 10 2016

I’ve spent all my blogging time today trying to write a couple of things for Samizdata, so once again it’s quota photo time, this time in the form of a photo of Tom Cruise that I photoed recently, just a few minutes before I took this footbridge photo.  To be more exact, it is a photo of a photo, of Tom Cruise:

image

That photo that you see in my photo is to be seen outside the Duchess Theatre in the West End, where the play being shown Goes Wrong, every night, without, although this may not be quite the way to describe things, fail.

I assume that you can only exhibit a picture of Tom Cruise like that if Tom Cruise gives his permission.  If that’s right, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport.  Or, perhaps, a greedy bastard.  But for now, I’m going with good sport, if only because if he got greedy, they couldn’t afford it.

Thursday October 06 2016

Yesterday I was reminding myself that we live in an age when pub quiz questions have instant answers.  So when, soon after posting that posting, I came across this photo I took a while back, of a boat, …:

image

… with the words “THAMES RIB EXPERIENCE” written on it, I set to work to find out what the “RIB” bit means.  I had vaguely supposed that this was some sort of steakhouse sponsorship deal.  The world is now full of ridiculous arrangements of that sort, sponsored by commercial enterprises whose only way to sell more of their stuff is to cause even more people to have heard of it.  The mere merits of the product being irrelevant, for their purposes.  “Yes it’s bad for you but it tastes really nice” not being a message they want to be too publicly and explicitly associated with, because then they’d have the health fascists all over them.

So “Thames Rib Experience” as an exercise is boosting meat consumption?  But which ribs should we be consuming.  Just ribs generally?  The British Rib Council, a combined consortium of ribbers, combining to boost ribs in general?  It didn’t seem very plausible.  So, what does RIB really mean?

It turns out that RIB means rigid inflatable boat.

This is a triviality, of course, unless you are in life-threateningly urgent need of a rigid inflatable boat trip on the Thames.  But the change in the world towards a state where it is much easier to find things out is not trivial.  The story that lots of people mention in this connection, and lots of people are not wrong, is the ease with which a formerly dirt poor farmer now can, in the depths of the African countryside, keep himself informed about the prices he can expect to get for his products, when he takes them to market.

Quicker and better answers to questions is all part of why all this stuff has been happening lately.

Monday September 26 2016

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

image

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.

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.