Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Cranes
Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):
That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.
I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.
The email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”. When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).
Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat. See right.
Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane! So very tall, and so very thin. It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything. I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London. Not that Antoine’s crane is in London. It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.
I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes. When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.
It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.
As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below. Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.
I am in the town of Thuir, near Perpignan, for a few days. Last night, in fading but still fabulous light, looking more amusing sights. I was not disappointed.
I’m guessing that the thinking here is that nicking a crane, or even getting inside a crane, is quite an operation, what with cranes being rigged so they’re unenterable if you are not the designated owner. But, nicking a cement mixer is just a matter of lifting it onto your vehicle. So, here is how you protect your cement mixer when you go home at night:
Cranes. Is there anything they can’t do?
Typing text is a struggle in Thuir, because in Thuir, they have slightly different keyboards to what I am used to. But photos, which in Thuir need different software to work, are also a struggle. So, blogging here for the next few days will probably (I promise nothing), as always here, be light and perfunctory, the difference being that here I have an excuse.
And I was deliberately retracing steps I used to do make a lot of around eight or ten years ago, to see what had changed and what had not. A lot had changed, in the form of a few big new buildings. The rest had not changed.
Did I say that that sunset I recently posted photos of was last Saturday? Yes. Actually it was the Friday. Get ill and you lose track of time. That evening I also took a lot of other photos, on and from the south bank of the river, between Blackfriars road bridge and Tower Bridge, and here are some of the ones I particularly liked:
That array of small photos (click on any you like to the look of to get it a decent size) really should not now be misbehaving, on any platform. If it is, please get in touch, by comment or by email.
As to the pictures themselves:
1.1 A Deliberately Bald Bloke standing at the bottom of 240 Blackfriars. (You can see the top of 240 Blackfriars in 3.1 here.) That Deliberately Bald look is, I think, fair game photo-blogging-wise. The guy is choosing to look this way. It’s a fashion statement, not an affliction. Blog-mocking the involuntarily bald is not right, but blog-celebrating those who embrace their baldness is fine. Especially if the guy obligingly turns his face away.
1.2 is one of my favourite weird London sites, namely the topless columns of the Blackfriars Bridge that isn’t, in between the two Blackfriars Bridges that are, the one on the right now sporting a new station on it. The twist is that this was high tide, and waves were rhythmically breaking against a corner in the river wall and filling the air between my camera and the bridges with bits of water.
1.3 is a building on the other side of the river. Just beyond the Blackfriars Station bridge. I do love what light and scaffolding and scaffolding covers sometimes do.
1.4 and 2.1 illustrate the universal photography rule to the effect that if you want to photo something very familiar, like St Paul’s Cathedral, you’d better include something else not so familiar, such as some propaganda for a current Tate Modern show that I will perhaps investigate soon, or maybe four big circles that you can see at the Tate Modern end of the Millennium Bridge.
2.2 is an ancient and modern snap, both elements of which I keep meaning to investigate. Those two buildings, the office block and the church, are like two people I frequently meet, but don’t know the names of. Luckily, with buildings, it’s not embarrassing to ask, far too late.
I know what that Big Thing behind the Millennium Bridge in 2.3 is, under wraps, being reconditioned, improved, made worse, whatever, we’ll have to see. That’s Centre Point. It even says most of that on it. I have always been fond of Centre Point, one of London’s early Big New Things.
2.4 features something I have tried and failed to photo several times previously, a Deliveroo Man. Deliveroo Men are usually in a great hurry and are gone before I can catch them, but this one was taking a breather. Deliveroo Men carry their plasticated corrugated boxes on their backs like rucksacks, which I presume saves valuable seconds.
3.1: Another ancient/modern snap. The very recognisable top of the Shard, and another piece of ancientness that I am familiar with but have yet to get around to identifying, see above. I reallyl should have photoed a sign about it. I bet there is one.
3.2: The golden top of the Monument, now dwarfed by the Gherkin and by the Walkie Talkie.
3.3: A golden hinde, which is to be found at the front of the Golden Hinde. I’ve seen that beast before, but never really noticed it.
3.4: Another ancient/modern snap, this time with Southwark Cathedral dominating the foreground. The combined effect yet again vindicates Renzo Piano’s belief that the Shard would blend into London rather than just crow all over it. Those broken fragments at the top echo the four spikes on the nearby Cathedral. It looks that way to me, anyway.
4.1: Another delivery snap, this time of the old school sort. A White Van. But with lots of propaganda all over it, notably the back door, in the new school style.
4.2: Yet another ancient modern contrast, this time the Monument, again, with a machine for window cleaning. Note that small tripoddy object on the top of the Monument. I suspect that this is to give advance warning if the Monument starts to wobble.
4.3: Two exercises in power projection, now both lapsed into tourist traps. Behind, the Tower of London. In front, HMS Belfast.
4.4: Finally! Modern/modern! The Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater, and probably my favourite snap of all these. Not a view you often see in other photos, but there it was. Should the bottom be cropped away, to simplify it even more. I prefer to leave photos as taken.
5.1 shows that thing when reflected light is the exact same colour when reflected as originally. Photography is light, so photography sees this. But eyes always try to create a 3D model of what is going on, rather than just a 2D picture. Eyes deliberately don’t see this.
5.2 and 5.4 take me back to my beautiful-women-taking-photos phase, which was big last decade. These two were too good to ignore. They were just so happy! But, mobile phones, which is very this decade. Just like my cameras, the cameras in these just get better and better.
5.3 is another view of that amazing cluster of footbridges.
Being sick as in feeling sick, and occasionally being sick as in being sick. As in expelling stuff I had previous eaten from my mouth.
Quota photo time:
There is so much light crashing across London from west to east that evening the eastern clouds were lit up pink, like they were a sunset or something. So I know what you are thinking. It must have been one hell of a sunset to do that. And you are not wrong:
If I wasn’t sick I probably wouldn’t indulge in such a lurid sunset, which I photoed last Saturday evening on Tower Bridge. But I am sick. I can do what I like.
Actually, it’s already getting better. But wish me well anyway.
There is, as I write, deep joy, a crane in operation, right outside my kitchen window. I can see it now, lifting steel girders onto the roof of a building that is being revamped, from an office into flats, across the yard from me.
Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done for a while, which is I attempted to get onto the roof of my block of flats. I succeeded. More deep joy. The door was unlocked.
Here is a picture I took of the crane, yesterday afternoon, just as it was folding itself up after its day’s work. The men in yellow had finished their work also, and the crane was about to descend back into the street whence it came:
I have not seen this process before, which is so central to how these things operate. It is not enough that they must be able to do their job, of lifting up things like girders and depositing them accurately into the midst of a building. At least some of them have to be able to hoist themselves up, and unhoist themselves down again afterwards. I mean, if you could only ever erect a crane with the help of another crane, where would it end?
A crane like the one in the last of these pictures that I showed here last Sunday, is another crane of the sort that can raise itself up off a lorry and immediately start work, and it is pretty clear just from looking at it approximately how it does this, even if its internal workings are slightly mysterious. But the manner in which the above crane operates isn’t quite so obvious. You need to see it to really appreciate it. And now I have.
I’m not exactly sure which it was of the cranes here that I saw in action, but that is definitely the website of the crane hire enterprise concerned.
Last Thursday, I said I would be checking out the Big Olympic Thing, and I did. The expedition was very satisfactory. I got there. I purchased, from a human, a one-year season ticket for a tenner. I ascended to the top. I took photos. I came home again. And I shall return to the B(ig) O(lympic) T(hing) and take better photos, from it if not of it, or at any rate different photos (see below).
First sighting of the BOT, as I emerged from the Westfield Shopping Centre:
Scaffolding, good. Trees mostly without leaves, good.
I still wasn’t sure how to get there exactly, but I was, as the sportsmen say, in the right areas. I asked around, and found my way, and while on my way photoed this part of a bigger map, concentrating on the area I was in at the time:
My destination is described on this map as “Arcelormittal Orbit”. It’ll never catch on.
Photoing maps when on photo-expeditions is very good, especially if the map says “you are here”, somewhere in it, which alas this one does not. Even so, this map shows where I went pretty well.
I started at the DLR station, in the clump of transport signs to the far right. I went through the pale blue expanse that is the Westfield shopping centre, along “The Street”, and then along “Stratford Walk”. Then I emerged into the open and negotiated my way past the “International Quarter”, following that big red arrow that points towards the stadium, and by then it was pretty clear.
Neither the area around the BOT nor the BOT itself is finished. There is a notable lack of any enterprise selling food or drink, and the whole place now has the air of a holding operation.
Here, for instance, was the seething mass of humanity with whom I competed for space on the lift to the top of the BOT:
Next, I’m looking out through the top of the BOT to the Big Things of the middle of London, which as you can see are actually quite a way away. Below is the Olympic Stadium:
I took closer-up shots, of course, of which this is my favourite:
The reason this shot is my favourite is that it aligns two Things you don’t often see aligned, namely the towers of Tower Bridge and, right behind them, the three-eyed Thing that is the Strata. At the time I thought I was photoing only the Strata. It turns out I was photoing an Alignment of the sort I so much like, but by mistake. I love it when that happens.
6k, in a comment on my earlier BOT posting, asked about The Slide. He’s talking about this, which is a graphic I saw at tht top of the BOT just as I was leaving. I left in rather a hurry because the BOT was closing, hence the rather sloppy nature of this snap:
But, as I often like to say about my pictures, you get the picture. That is what The Slide is going to look like. More about that in the Dezeen posting about the BOT Slide that 6k kindly linked to.
6k asked if The Slide is finished yet. Answer: It has hardly started. Not started at all in any way you’d notice. See the next picture but one below.
Meanwhile here is another graphic that I photoed, at the bottom of the BOT, on the outside:
What we see there is how the view from the top of the BOT looks when the sun is off to the side rather than straight ahead, as the sun was in all of my photos of those Big Things. And when a Real Photographer is on the job.
Memo-to-self: Some time quite soon, I shall be consulting the weather forecast and making a trip out to the BOT again, in the morning.
Second-to-last shot, showing the total absence so far of any Slide action, and the Olympic Stadium, soon to be occupied by West Ham United:
Note once again the insane competition from massed humans for the facilities on offer. Not.
I will end with a shot of the BOT and a crane, snapped from just outside Pudding Mill Lane DLR, which is one of my favourite DLR stops if only because of its name. This makes the point yet again that this whole area is very much work in progress rather than finished. The Slide is yet to come, as is a lot of other stuff:
See the very bottom of the map snap above for the location of Pudding Mill Lane. As you can see from that snap, even despite its truncatedness, there is a lot of Olympicness for me to explore that I did not explore on this particular expedition. Like I say, I shall return.
Bright sunlight on a basically rather dull day can make the most commonplace objects seem heavenly. But when a shaft of sunlight slashed across Cape Town earlier in the week, it hit a big container ship and a flock of container cranes, who ended up looking like a herd of giraffes. Amazing. And crying out to be horizontalised:
I was saving that for yesterday, because yesterday was Friday and my day for animals (the more bizarre the better). But come yesterday, I forgot.
Too good to delay, too good to ignore.
Photoed by me, when I visited Barcelona in the summer of 2005:
This began like as an advert, but has mutated into Art. It seems to be quite a big deal, over there in Barcelona. My picture is of it supported by a structure which has since been replaced.
I have been a bit ill. Still am, rather. Hence this rather random posting, even by my random standards, and hence also the fact that although I tried to find out what this owl originally advertised, I pretty soon gave up. Anyone?
I was going to put up a picture I took of the Sagrada Familia (the big spikey Gaudi cathedral), with cranes. But the internet is full of pictures of the Sagrada Familia, without cranes, and also with cranes.
For me the interesting stuff is about why they may not be falling quite so often in the future:
We’ve already reached the next step in safety. Crane manufacturers are now trying to build in new automatic features to keep disaster from striking their equipment. Modern-day mobile cranes have load moment indicators that, when they are properly programmed, act as limit switches. These switches limit operators from moving loads deemed too heavy for the crane. The high-flying tower cranes have controls to limit loads in various places on the hoist line, depending on the function of the crane at any given point.
Tower and mobile cranes now can come equipped with video cameras to show views of the loads and work zones in the operator cab - the newest cranes include this technology in “head-up displays” that require no looking down to see the images - to manage blind lifts. Additionally, crane operators can expect to use anti-collision systems to stop a crane from moving outside its engineered zone.
The most recent crane malfunction I can find having happened in London was this one, in Ealing. Nobody hurt.
Different story altogether when a crane recently fell over in Mecca. Death toll: 107.
This prang, on the other hand, was not a crane collapsing, rather was it driven into by a helicopter. Ever since that happened, in January 2013, London’s construction cranes have all had bright red lights on the top of them. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “red light district”:
Those cranes are across the river from me, photoed by me last November. Not the best photo you’ve ever seen, but it does the job of showing you what I’m talking about.
On the same day I photoed this stuff, up there in …
…, I also photoed white vans, like these ones:
“Rimessa a nuovo e posa pavimenti in Legno” is the Italian for having sex for the first time, very elegantly (like they’re performing), on the pavement, in a place called Legno. No not really, I don’t know what that means. Something to do with wood flooring.
As for th van on the right, rather black but with a giant white painted piece of seafood on it, well, I like it. Although I do miss the times when the Wright Brothers didn’t mean that, but meant the first people to fly an airplane and land it, or whatever it was exactly that the original Wright Brothers did.
Here, on the other hand, is a white van of the sort you don’t want to see:
Graffiti, badly covered up or badly cleaned up, and then more graffiti. Not good. I have never seen a white van that was an graffiti battlefield before. Graffighting?
So, I’ll cheer myself up with another white van, this time an excellent one, photoed more recently, outside a building site in Westminster:
A white van for looking after tower cranes. White vans don’t get any better than that..
Yes, today I was in Burgess Park, which is the other side of the river from me. I took the 148 bus, to see where it would go, and once in that bus, I spent my time wondering what Camberwell Green is.
I tried to take photos out of the bus, but the best seats, at the top at the front, were taken. I had to sit right at the back. But, in the vicinity of the Elephant and Castle, I did manage this:
I got lucky with the crane shadow, didn’t I? The development is called Elephant Park.
I never did find out about Camberwell Green, because the bus got stuck in a jam next to one of the entrances to Burgess Park, and I got out at the next stop to take another look at this diverting space. I visited Burgess Park once before, and liked it a lot. Great views of Big Things. Today was also good, from that point of view:
But the shot of the day, in my opinion so far, on the same evening, is this, of a photographer photoing the sunset:
You’ll have to take my word for it that the sunset is what he was photoing, and for that matter that he was even holding a camera. But he was.
Today, went to the top of the Westminster Cathedral tower, again, to check out whether I could see the Wembley Arch. I could. Just. But, then went to a Christian Michel evening. Rob Waller speaking. Very good. But, me now rather drunk. So, cannot discuss Wembley Arch. Instead, here is a picture of west London and its cranes, from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral:
Hope you like it. Sleep well. I will.
I make it eight cranes.
I have begun reading Matt Ridley’s latest book, The Evolution of Everything. Early signs: brilliant. I especially liked this bit (pp. 7-10), about modern ideas in the ancient world:
A ‘skyhook’ is an imaginary device for hanging an object from the sky. The word originated in a sarcastic remark by a frustrated pilot of a reconnaissance plane in the First World War, when told to stay in the same place for an hour: ‘This machine is not fitted with skyhooks,’ he replied. The philosopher Daniel Dennett used the skyhook as a metaphor for the argument that life shows evidence of an intelligent designer. He contrasted skyhooks with cranes - the first impose a solution, explanation or plan on the world from on high; the second allow solutions, explanations or patterns to emerge from the ground up, as natural selection does.
The history of Western thought is dominated by skyhooks, by devices for explaining the world as the outcome of design and planning. Plato said that society worked by imitating a designed cosmic order, a belief in which should be coercively enforced. Aristotle said that you should look for inherent principles of intentionality and development - souls - within matter. Homer said gods decided the outcome of battles. St Paul said that you should behave morally because Jesus told you so. Mohamed said you should obey God’s word as transmitted through the Koran. Luther said that your fate was in God’s hands. Hobbes said that social order came from a monarch, or what he called ‘Leviathan’ - the state. Kant said morality transcended human experience. Nietzsche said that strong leaders made for good societies. Marx said that the state was the means of delivering economic and social progress. Again and again, we have told ourselves that there is a top-down description of the world, and a top-down prescription by which we should live.
But there is another stream of thought that has tried and usually failed to break through. Perhaps its earliest exponent was Epicurus, a Greek philosopher about whom we know very little. From what later writers said about his writings, we know that he was born in 341 BC and thought (as far as we can tell) that the physical world, the living world, human society and the morality by which we live all emerged as spontaneous phenomena, requiring no divine intervention nor a benign monarch or nanny state to explain them. As interpreted by his followers, Epicurus believed, following another Greek philosopher, Dernocritus, that the world consisted not of lots of special substances including spirits and humours, but simply of two kinds of thing: voids and atoms. Everything, said Epicurus, is made of invisibly small and indestructible atoms, separated by voids; the atoms obey the laws of nature and every phenomenon is the result of natural causes. This was a startlingly prescient conclusion for the fourth century BC.
Unfortunately Epicurus’s writings did not survive. But three hundred years later, his ideas were revived and explored in a lengthy, eloquent and unfinished poem, De Rerum Natura (Of the Nature of Things), by the Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus, who probably died in mid-stanza around 49 BC, just as dictatorship was looming in Rome. Around this time, in Gustave Flaubert’s words, ‘when the gods had ceased to be, and Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius when man stood alone’. Exaggerated maybe, but free thinking was at least more possible then than before or after. Lucretius was more subversive, open-minded and far-seeing than either of those politicians (Cicero admired, but disagreed with, him). His poem rejects all magic, mysticism, superstition, religion and myth. It sticks to an unalloyed empiricism.
As the Harvard historian Stephen Greenblatt has documented, a bald list of the propositions Lucretius advances in the unfinished 7,400 hexameters of De Rerum Natura could serve as an agenda for modernity. He anticipated modern physics by arguing that everything is made of different combinations of a limited set of invisible particles, moving in a void. He grasped the current idea that the universe has no creator, Providence is a fantasy and there is no end or purpose to existence, only ceaseless creation and destruction, governed entirely by chance. He foreshadowed Darwin in suggesting that nature ceaselessly experiments, and those creatures that can adapt and reproduce will thrive. He was with modern philosophers and historians in suggesting that the universe was not created for or about human beings, that we are not special, and there was no Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty in the distant past, but only a primitive battle for survival. He was like modern atheists in arguing that the soul dies, there is no afterlife, all organised religions are superstitious delusions and invariably cruel, and angels, demons or ghosts do not exist. In his ethics he thought the highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
Thanks largely to Greenblatt’s marvellous book The Swerve, I have only recently come to know Lucretius, and to appreciate the extent to which I am, and always have been without knowing it, a Lucretian/Epicurean. Reading his poem in A.E. Stallings’s beautiful translation in my sixth decade is to be left fuming at my educators. How could they have made me waste all those years at school plodding through the tedious platitudes and pedestrian prose of Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar, when they could have been telling me about Lucretius instead, or as well? Even Virgil was writing partly in reaction to Lucretius, keen to re-establish respect for gods, rulers and top-down ideas in general. Lucretius’s notion of the ceaseless mutation of forms composed of indestructible substances - which the Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana called the greatest thought that mankind has ever hit upon - has been one of the persistent themes of my own writing. It is the central idea behind not just physics and chemistry, but evolution, ecology and economics too. Had the Christians not suppressed Lucretius, we would surely have discovered Darwinism centuries before we did.
Indeed. Today was a lot colder than of late, and a lot brighter than of late. I guess that happens when the clouds go away, in November. I was on my way out around midday today, and took these, the last one through a train window:
The first two are looking across Vincent Square, towards Victoria Street and at Westminster Abbey. The next three are of building work at the top end of Victoria Street, where there is not a lot of building work going on. And finally, Big Things, from the train out of Victoria.
I was very pessimistic about all the new stuff around Victoria Station, but that big spikey thing is looking very cool.
The first picture is the odd one out. No cranes.
Most clichés are true. Being true they get repeated and repeated, which is how they became cliches. But the cliché that it rains a lot in England is not true, at any rate not in my part of England. Rain in London is actually quite rare, and when it does rain it seldom lasts long. Heavy rain is very rare, which is why, when it happens, it causes excited headlines.
But, the weather is often cloudy and overcast. Thus for the last several days it has been almost entirely overcast, and very occasionally wet.
I have been mostly indoors, having one of my periodic attempts to tidy up. Photographically, I have done little, except remember sunnier days earlier in the year.
Here are four photos taken in June and July of this year, all of which involve sunshine in one way or another:
I love that weird effect you see when someone has been destroying reinforced concrete, combining jumbles of twisted metal rods and what can look like ancient rocks but which are really bits of concrete. The sunniest thing in that photo is me, in the form of my shadow. Nothing says bright light like a strong shadow.
All the other snaps involve - what else? - cranes. I especially like how bright light often strikes cranes. Usually, when I photo this, I get disappointingly toned down results. My camera presumably thinks that by eliminating dazzle it was helping, but dazzle is what I am often trying to photo. I want the light to be out of control and sloshing about all over the place. Bottom left is a rare exception to that tendency.
Bottom right is looking down Tottenham Court Road, at a crane and a Wheel, lit by sun, backed by dark cloud, a favourite effect. The strange and rather misshapen green house thing (which I like) is (I think) the top of the new Tottenham Court Road Crossrail-Tube Station.