Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Patrick Crozier on An underground history lesson
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Sam Duncan on An old American car in Tottenham Court Road
6000 on London Biggin Hill "Jet Centre"?
6000 on William Hague on the collapse of the centre left
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- An underground history lesson
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- Here begins the Essex Way
- Glass Build white van
- BT Tower with cranes
- Shiny little Aston Martin
- On packaging – and on the need to chuck it out
- View of the footbridge - view from the footbridge
- Juliet Barker on Knights of Old: A lot of history in one paragraph
- Crane on fire
- I was photoing white vans in February 2007
- Early thoughts on the Rugby World Cup
- What’s this?
- Tricycle transport
- Marmite crisps are back!
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Category archive: Society
Photoed by me last night, at Southwark tube station:
Next to the ticket barrier at Southwark tube there are a number of these little history lessons, of which this was my favourite. This is the kind of thing you can usually chase up quickly on the internet, and find a fuller account of. But, my googling abilities are such that I can find no reference to this fish-discouragement story. Anyone?
How much you learn from something that you just read depends not only on what it says, but on what you knew before you read it. And for me, this short paragraph cleared up several big blurs in my knowledge of Olden Times:
The new technique of fighting which had won the battle of Hastings for the Normans was also adopted in England; instead of standing or riding and hurling the lance overarm, these new warriors, the knights, charged on horseback with the lance tucked beneath the arm, so that the weight of both horse and rider was behind the blow and the weapon was reusable. Though it required discipline and training, giving rise to the birth of tournaments and the cult of chivalry, a charge by massed ranks of knights with their lances couched in this way was irresistible. Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess who witnessed its devastating effect during the First Crusade, claimed that it could ‘make a hole in the wall of Babylon’.
That’s from the second page (page 8) of the first chapter of Agincourt, by Juliet Barket.
That bit in school history where they explained what a knight was and what knights did and how the knights did it … well, I missed it. And ever since, everyone talking about such things has assumed that I knew it very clearly, when I didn’t. It’s so obvious. How would someone like me not know it?
Oh, I sort of knew it, from having seen a hundred films where film actors did this, in film battles and in film tournaments. But I had not realised that it was a military innovation like the phalanx or gunpowder or the tank or the airplane or the atom bomb. I had not properly realised that the essence of Knighthood was collective action rather than mere individual virtue, the point being that it was the former which required the latter. And I had not realised that it was what won the Battle of Hastings. Or, even more interestingly, I had not realised that it was what won the First Crusade. (After which, I’m guessing that the Muslims then copied it.
Medieval society did not give rise to Knights. The Knights technique of fighting gave rise to Medieval society.
I remember reading Tom Holland’s Millennium, and being presented right at the end with the result of the First Crusade, without there having been any mention (that I recall) of how a European military innovation was what won it. (That doesn’t mean Holland does not mention this, merely that I don’t remember him mentioning it.)
So, at the heart of the European years between Hastings (1066) and Agincourt (1415 (when I now suppose the Knights to have met their nemesis in the form of the next big military innovation, the Archers (hence the picture on the front of Agincourt))) was a technique of fighting. Like I say, I sort of knew this, but have never before isolated this fact in my head, as a Big Fact. Instead, I have spent my whole life being rather confused about this Big Fact, reading a thousand things where the Big Fact was assumed, but never actually explained.
Why did I not correct this confusion decades ago? Because, not knowing it properly, I had not realised what a huge confusion it was.
I just watched a recording I made of a BBC TV show called Proms Extra, which is a chat show that responds to and flags up London’s immediately past and immediately future Promenade Concerts. They were asking themselves whether they minded clapping in between movements, in connection with a performance of The Planets, in which this had happened.. The assembled commentators agreed that they did not mind at all.
Two thoughts from me about this.
First, the assumption seems to be that people clap in between movements because they don’t know they’re not supposed to. But I think it is much more knowing than this. I think the audience has changed its mind about this.
There has been a huge movement in music-making to achieve an “authentic” sound, by which is meant the sort of sound made by the first performers of the pieces. Well, why not more authentic audiences? Time was when “classical” audiences would clap in between movements without hesitation. Sometimes they would yell for encores, of symphonic movements, before the symphony had even finished, just like at the opera. That in-between-movements clapping is now happening (has been for quite a while actually) at the Proms tells me that the current fashion for clapping in among big multi-movement pieces is a very knowing decision, a very musically educated decision. We are not “supposed” to do this? Well guess what, we have decided that we will do this.
It’s not only this, but I am sure that this is part of it.
Personally, I think that not clapping something like the tumultuous third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, for instance, seems very unnatural.
However second, there is no doubt that this new convention, if new convention it will be, has not yet been fully established. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, and quite often in a rather tentative, awkward and rather indecisive way. So, it must surely sometimes make life a little difficult for performers.
What if you have just given what you reckon was a tumultuously great performance of a movement which ends in a manner than just begs to be greeted with a round of applause, and there is silence? In the older days, of strict inter-movement silence, fine. I’m not finished. But now? Hm. Did they not like it? And, after a bit of silence, will they relent, and start clapping, just as I am starting the next movement?
The older regime of silence in between movements was at least a rule, which everyone stuck to and which newcomers quickly learned, from all the dirty looks they got if they broke the rule. And performers could either pause or press on immediately, confident that no clapping would interrupt whatever effects they were seeking to create.
I need to get out less, and this weather is not helping.
Tomorrow, the weather will be helping very much:
This is perfect. My life today, in the last few days, and for the last few weeks, has been one mad social whirl after another, my contented solitude being having been violated seemingly every other evening and sometimes more often even than that, which is all fun and all that, but I find that an evening out puts a blight on creativity for the entire day, because what if I start something, want to finish it, but then don’t have time to, because I have a social whirl to attend and to get ready for and to find my way to and to find out about finding my way to? Last night I whirled out to watch theatrical stuff in an unfamiliar and transportationally complicated part of town with a theatrical friend. Tonight, I face another social whirl, to meet Perry II. Every time I go out I take photos, but because of all this going out I have no time to show them to you people or not with the sort of insightful commentary that I want to attach to them without which what’s the point? - They’re just pictures.
So tomorrow (a day during which I have nothing else planned), I will stay in all day, and try (although I promise nothing) to do here a mammoth day of catch-up blogging, showing you a tiny fraction of the pictures I have been taking lately, all properly explained, and anything else I’ve been meaning to put here for some time that I decide to put here tomorrow, in not one, not two, but many postings.
We shall see.
Incoming, this morning, 11.37 am:
How are you?
Oh you know, much the same as ever.
My name is Chrystal. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.
Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.
I was pondering my reply to Chrystal, asking for clarification about this site I am supposed to be visiting, but going on to say that she really is a bit young for me.
But then, incoming, at 12.12pm:
How are you?
My name is Eugenia. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.
Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.
Uncanny. Truly, truly uncanny. They even both said “hi brian” is the same giant blue letters. What are the odds? Presumably, I should continue with the composition of my reply, and send a copy to each of them. It’s almost as if one of them isn’t a real person. Or even – the horror – neither of them is. Does some terrible middle aged, male, ugly criminal want to know more about me, that he can then use to his advantage and to my disadvantage? If Eugenia hadn’t copied Chrystal’s email to me, these suspicious thoughts might never have occurred to me.
Seriously though, these sorts of (and all the other sorts of) bullshit emails pollute email, by making you assume that any email from anyone which seems even slightly off key is bollocks, even if it isn’t. You even think it may be bollocks if the person it’s from is someone that you know. Because, maybe someone else stole that person’s name, or just guessed it or chose it at random. I can remember when it actually made sense to trust incoming emails from strangers, unless they were obvious bullshit. Those days are long gone. At first, email seemed to create a bright new world of candour and of quick and easy communication. But emails like the ones above clog up the pipes. They may be a joke, but they are a joke we could all do without.
Yesterday I wrote here about the twenty-first century social obligation to use a mobile phone when meeting up with someone, because of the problems this solves and despite the problems this creates. Hence the need for me to take my mobile phone with me when going photowalkabout with G(od)D(aughter) 1.
But, on Saturday evening, the evening before GD1 and I went on our walk, I was very nearly deprived of my mobile phone, by which I mean deprived of the ability to make use of it.
What happened was that, while I was also out and about on Saturday evening, a baritone-singing student friend of mezzo-soprano-singing student G(od)D(aughter) 2, sought the help of GD2. His mobile had run out of puff and needed a recharge. GD2 uses an iPhone, but Baritone has an Android mobile, so Baritone could not use GD2’s recharger. What to do?
Between them they decided that I and my Android recharger might be the answer. I guess that GD2 then rang me on my immobile home number and discovered that I was out. Then, knowing my aversion and incompetence as a mobile phoner, and especially as a reliable receiver of incoming mobile messages, she did not not attempt to ring me on my mobile. Or, she did try my mobile and I did not answer.
For various reasons that I still don’t understand and which in any case do not now matter, Baritone ended up coming to my home, armed with GD2’s key to my home, and having made his entrance, he “borrowed” my mobile phone recharger.
I want to emphasise that the above quote marks are not sneer quotes. They are confusion quotes.
For, what exactly does it mean to “borrow” a mobile phone charger? What GD2 meant, when she assured Baritone that it would okay for him to “borrow” my phone charger, was that it would be okay for him to charge up his mobile phone, using my charger at my home. As indeed it would have been.
However, Baritone misunderstood this assurance to mean that it would be okay for him to “borrow” my charger, as in: take it away and make use it throughout Saturday evening, in other places besides mine. I don’t believe that Baritone would have done this without that assurance from GD2, as he understood it. After all, whereas charging up your mobile in situ is socially very okay, taking a charger away without permission is surely a twenty-first century social gaff of the first order. But, Baritone thought that he had permission to do this otherwise unacceptable thing. GD2 is adamant that she gave no such permission, but I believe that Baritone genuinely thought that this unusual procedure was, in the light of GD2’s assurance, okay. He made this clear in a written thankyou note he left on my desk.
And it normally would have been okay. Had I not been going on an expedition the following day with GD1, then the charger could have made its way back to my home some time on or around Sunday, and all would have been fine. But, for all the reasons that were explained in the previous posting, I needed that charger by quite early on Sunday morning at the latest.
So, despite GD2s protestations, I acquit Baritone of wrongdoing.
But then again, Baritone is a baritone. And baritones often behave very badly, quite often at the expense of notably virtuous mezzo-sopranos. So maybe I’m being too kind.
All was speedily corrected by GD2, who was rather insulted by the profuseness of my thanks when she brought my charger back at 8am on Sunday morning. Of course I got your charger back. (See what I mean about virtuous mezzo-sopranos.)
It was just as well that I did get it back. In addition to using my mobile for all that meeting up at the start of the day, I also used it for its map app, and to tell me how Surrey were doing against Gloucester. Very well, as it happened. Nothing like your sports team winning to keep you going when you are knackered.
However, I now understand better why people have cameras with mobile phones built into them. What with my bag and all, I was having constantly to choose between knowing where I was, and photoing it.
Surrey are on a bit of a roll just now. This evening they beat Gloucester again, in a T20 slog at the Oval. Surrey needed a mere six runs from the last four balls. So, how did they get them? The last four balls went: wicket, dot, dot, six. In English that’s: probable Surrey victory, possible Surrey victory, almost impossible Surrey victory, Surrey victory. I got that off my laptop, but I could have got it from my mobile, if I had been out and about. Provided it hadn’t run out of puff.
As everyone else in the world found out several years before I did, a mobile phone is now an essential part of the kit you need to meet up with somebody. So, I made a point of having my mobile with me when G(od)D(aughter) 1 and I met up at Manor House tube last Sunday.
When I arrived there, at our predetermined time, I discovered that Manor House tube has three widely dispersed exits to choose from. Now you may say: “But how many ticket barriers does it have? One.” You are right, but what if the mobile phone reception at the ticket barrier, this ticket barrier being below ground, does not work? I needed to be out in the open.
Mobile phones cause plans to be more muddy and last-minute than they used to be, because that is what these plans can now be. GD1 and I had hoped that “the exit of Manor House tube” would be unambiguous, but we took a chance on that, because we would both have our mobile phones with us, and we could make it up as we went along if things got more complicated.
I picked one of the three exits and looked around for GD1. No sign. I left a phone message and a text message for GD1 saying to her: I am in the
Manor Park View Cafe, which is next to the big gate into Finsbury Park, which by then I was. Fifteen minutes later, I rang again, and eventually got through to GD1. She said: “I just sent you a text.” Ah. She was running a bit late, which, now that we all have mobiles, is okay because now such information is easily communicated.
Anyway we duly met up in the Manor Park Cafe, and we consumed consumables while deciding to have our walk anyway, despite the weather being vile, but also deciding that we would wait inside the
Manor Park View Cafe until it stopped actually raining.
What might have happened had we not had any mobile telephony at our disposal, I do not know. The old method, which is that you decide beforehand to meet at place X at time Y, used to work okay. Whoever got there first waited, and whoever was second said sorry, with whatever degree of sincerity seemed appropriate. But now, if you don’t bring a mobile with you, and if you don’t make constant use of it, you are misbehaving.
I brought my mobile with me to meet up with GD1, but at a critical moment I failed to consult it. “Getting old” will definitely be one of the categories below.
The question mark in my title is because I do not know whether or not this bench is unusual. Is it truly odd? Or did it merely seem odd to me, when I photoed it earlier this evening, because I noticed something I had never noticed before in such a bench, but which is actually not that unusual?
Anyway, this is the bench:
And what struck me as odd is those extra arms, dividing the bench into three individual spots. There are other seats like this, but I have never seen a wooden bench of this very trad sort, with those very untrad internal arms added. To me this was and is very novel. I found myself thinking: Is there something particularly London (It says “City of London” on the bench) about this, to me, very odd arrangement? Is this some sort of device to guarantee not being touched by the people who sit next to you, perhaps because there are three such people and they squeeze up against you? And is that very London? Something you definitely would not find in other more socially easygoing, less atomistic, places?
Also, somehow, given those extra arms, I expect also extra legs.
I encountered these benches (there were several, including the one I was sitting on when I photoed this other one) outside the Museum of London in the Barbican area of the City of London. In case you wanted to know.
I don’t often go to pubs, because of the noise. But Goddaughter 2, raised in France, wanted to try eating a pie in a pub, so we went to the Barley Mow in Horseferry Road to see what they had. They had pies, which proved very tasty.
Two particular circumstances made the evening pure perfection for me, besides the pure perfection of Goddaughter 2’s company I mean.
First, they had the latest England v NZ cricket ODI on the telly, and I got to watch the conclusion of England’s outstanding and outstandingly successful run chase that has just levelled the ODI series 2-2. And second, this being the twenty-first century, GD2 had her smartphone with her and was texting with all her friends. I hope you aren’t bored because of me doing all this texting, she said. No no, I said, gazing happily at the giant telly screen, you just carry on my dear. Don’t mind me. As I said to her when we were leaving, had I been asked to chose the perfect hour and more to spend in a pub this week, then given that this pub had the cricket on the go, and given that my ever-delightful companion was apologising for neglecting me and communing instead with her smartphone, this hour and more would have been it.
There was noise but it didn’t matter. We didn’t do much in the way of conversation, in other words we didn’t shout much at each other, although we did a bit because it wasn’t actually that noisy. But we were mostly doing two separate things that did not require peace and quiet to work. GD2 didn’t need silence to read and write her texts. I didn’t need any television cricket commentators to tell me that England were batting up a storm.
As we left I asked GD2 if she reckoned the social media have made it better for women in pubs. She reckoned yes they probably have. If men in pubs are diverted by men’s stuff, like cricket on the telly, then any women they have dragged along with them are now able to entertain themselves, instead of just sitting there moping and getting bored. Or, if the men were a bit more gracious than that, they would force themselves to ignore the men’s stuff and do conversation, despite their strong inclinations. Also not ideal. So, social media definitely equals progress. And if the women are distracted by women’s stuff, then the men can play with their smartphones.
One of the very few uses I have found for my own smartphone, aside from telling me where I am and where to go when I am out and about, is acquainting myself with the latest cricket scores when I am out and about.
Here is a cropped detail of a photo I took on Monday, of a rather strange hair style:
The internet knows everything, but my image-googling skills are not good enough for me to learn what is going on here. I have seen this kind of style before, so this is no mere individual eccentricity. There is a group of guys who all style their hair like this. But who are they? What else, if anything, to they believe in, besides believing in having their hair done in this strange way? Anyone?
A while back, I showed you this photo, and mentioned how a sight like that often gets me going, photographically speaking. That one certainly got me going that day.
Here is one of the more fun snaps I then took, of a hair drying machine that looks like an alien robot about to crush your head with a pair of cymbals, ...:
... or perhaps it is about to hug you. You decide.
And here, taken only moments later, is a picture of a celebrity (the sort of celebrity that nobody has heard of) being papparized by a bunch of big-arse paps in big-arse trousers, outside what I assume is some kind of club, just off of Seven Dials.
When you get into that state of photographic ecstasy, that’s the kind of thing that seems to present itself to you.
Who knows? Maybe the cymbal playing alien robot had just been drying Madam Celeb’s hair. It does have some rather artful curls in it, that have the look of having been done to her, so to speak.
Nothing wrong with her arse.
Last night, I ventured out to dinner at Chateau Samizdata, hoping that my seeming recovery from flu would not be thrown into reverse. I felt okay all last night, and I still do. Not fully recovered, but okay. But, my sense of taste was and is a mess, in fact now I think about it, it has been for several days. I have always thought that I have good taste. Don’t we all? But just now, I don’t. Things taste somewhat nasty and metallic.
A little sickness-googling got me to this website, which tells me what would seem to have been happening. This is quite common, it would seem.
Dinner was great, really superb. Thank you Adriana. Even with my taste-buds misfiring, I could still tell that this was fabulously tasty food. But I couldn’t really appreciate it properly. It was rather like listening to great orchestral music, but in the Royal Festival Hall.
At least I was able to photo the food being photoed:
Nowadays, this being the twenty first century and all, I think this is the test of whether your cooking at least looks like it will be good. Do your guests get out their smartphones and take snaps? If so, success. If no, fail.
First, an outstanding White Van photo snapped from what looks like the inside of a cafe, by Simon Gibbs, to whom profuse thanks:
I’ve been photoing White Vans for a month and more, but have never got three of them in one go like that. That arrived chez moi first thing this morning.
And then, to my amazement, this was this at Guido, also today:
That’s right. Labour have launched there very own White Van! You wouldn’t dare make that up. I knew I was onto something with all this White Vannery.
The problem for the Labour Party here is that Essex White Van Man, the original beast, doesn’t work as an employee driver for Wellocks, or for Office Revival or for Yate Supplies (these being the enterprises who own and whose glory is proclaimed by Simon’s three White Vans above), and certainly not for the Labour Party. He has his own White Van, which is entirely white, as you can see when you peruse that original tweet that got all this fuss started:
That snap being a recent one of mine. And, as Guido points out, a proper Essex White Van is not a Merc, as the Labour White Van is. He doesn’t go on to say that it should be a Ford Transit, as above, but it should. The White Van in the original tweet is a Transit.
This new Labour White Van is supposed to separate Labour from the la-di-da world of London and to assert its connection to the common (i.e. non-rich-London) man. But it fails to do this, because, as these recent White Van postings of mine have been explaining, White Vans covered in poncey graphics are now quintessentially London. I assume that they have also become quintessentially Wigan and quintessentially Rotherham and for that matter quintessential Dagenham. But I further assume that when true-blue Wiganians and Rotherhamians and Dagenhamians look at them, they see, not their local culture, but cultural imperialism by bloody London.
(Damn. I did everything to this posting put actually post it “today”, so I’m leaving the date I originally attached to it. Cheating I know but it talks about Monday as today, so Monday it is.)
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.
I am probably going to start doing Twitter, quite soon, years after everyone else. Does anyone have any advice about that? About whether, and if so about how?
Frank J has advice to offer about why you should do it:
What is the purpose of writing? Did you say to share your thoughts? To influence? To educate? To entertain? To conjure made-up worlds and share them with others?
Well, that’s all nonsense. The purpose of writing is to demonstrate to everyone how clever you are.
Here is a frightful warning about how a tweet can ruin your life. I now think I probably don’t have that much of a life to ruin, but perhaps Twitter will make me soon look back on my life now with desperate longing for a lost golden age.
My regular readers probably have a pretty good idea of what I might or might not use Twitter to do. Any thoughts? Or warnings? Dos? Don’ts? What I did rights? What I did wrongs? Etc.