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Category archive: Other creatures

Friday November 16 2018

Time for some more horizontality:

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Click on that to get the 1000x750 original bigger picture, which I found here.

Notice the title of the posting.  Hartley really is fascinated by colour, whether present, as here (in the sky), or absent, as is the case for the black and white birds here.

Interesting that stripping out the context, which makes it that bit clearer that these are birds, makes these birds that little bit harder to see clearly, as birds.

Friday November 09 2018

Friday used to be my day here for “Cats” and then I expanded it also to “Other creatures”.  I hadn’t thought of anything creaturely to blog about, and hoped that when I went out walking today, I might encounter something appropriate.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Within yards of my home, I encountered these creatures:

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Police horses and their riders are often to be seen in the SW1 part of London, presumably just getting exercise in between riot situations.

Coincidentally, I recently had a discussion with someone on the subject of what work horses still do, following their replacement as transport by trains and cars and the like, and as warriors by such things as tanks.  Well, they still entertain us, by racing against one another, and by acting the parts of real transport horses or real war horses in historical dramas, mostly on the screen, but occasionally live.

But apart from that?  The only thing we could think of was assisting the police by participating in riot control.  I surmise that horses are called upon to do this because they combine being very scary to humans on foot, with their scary hooves with metal shoes on, with also being so very cute.  That way, rioters are dissuaded from trying to hurt such horses.  If rioters do actually hurt any horses, they incur the wrath of the general public in a way that rioters do not when they merely attack human riot police.  Horses combine being very formidable riot opponents with the fact that their presence at riots is very clearly not being their fault.  In a way, they are merely victims of such riots, victimised by the demands placed upon them.  We sympathise with them already, just because they have to attend riots.  If the rioters attack them, we sympathise even more.  Our sympathy may be excessive, but we feel it.  This places rioters in an impossible bind.  They like to think of themselves as heroes.  But heroes don’t torment horses.  Only villains do that.

Are there any other ways that horses make themselves useful to humans?  Perhaps my problem is that I am urban.  Out there in the country, in spots where vehicles still have problems, there must be such uses.  Transport in hilly or mountainous country?  Oh yes, cowboy horses, herding cows!  Silly me.  I can’t think of any more just now, but I bet if I continue to imagine the non-city parts of the world, more horse jobs will pop into my head, the way that cow-herding just did.

Fox hunting doesn’t count.  That used to be a real thing, when there were no other ways to combat foxes.  But now, fox hunting is just country folk having historical-re-enactment fun.

Thursday November 08 2018

This is not an advert for a book.  Well, it is, but that’s not my purpose in showing it here.  My angle is my niece, the crime fiction writer Roz Watkins, who is quoted here, enthusing about the book:

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The point being that, with what seems to me like remarkable speed, Roz has turned herself into someone whose opinion about other people’s writing is considered worth quoting.

I found the above graphic at her Twitter feed, along with her thanks for having been described as “the great Roz Watkins” by a grateful publisher.  Everything about Roz’s public and social media presence says to me, and I am sure to everyone else who is following her, that she is very serious about her writing career.  Deadly serious, you might say.

This matters, because readers of crime fiction need to know that, if they invest their time and curiosity and shelf space, to say nothing of their cash, in a leading character, this investment will pay off.  The energetic and upbeat way that Roz presents herself says that there will be plenty more books about her lead detective.  There is already a second Meg Dalton tale coming out next April, and if several more Meg Daltons do not follow, at a speed no faster than (but no slower than) is consistent with the maintenance of quality, I for one will be very surprised.

Friday November 02 2018

I follow the actor James Dreyfus on Twitter, because I liked him in Gimme Gimme Gimme and The Thin Blue Line, and because his opinions seem to be refreshingly un- and often anti-PC.

Dreyfus recently tweeted about a device that the owner of a blind dog had made for the dog, to stop the dog bumping his nose into things, and instead bumping the device into things before his nose got there.  It looks like a sort of horizontal halo, with a curve curving out in front of the dog’s nose.  As a result, the blind dog became willing to wander around, whereas previously he’d been too scared of bumping his nose on things.  There’s video, showing how this device works and what a difference it is making.

James Dreyfus is in favour of kindness to animals, as am I, and he complimented the owner for his kindness and inventiveness, as do I.

When I went a-googling on the subject of blind dogs, I discovered that you can actually buy a device like this, as one of Dreyfus’s commenters points out.  It’s called a halo guide, although it doesn’t do much in the way of guiding.  It just takes the hurt out of bumping into things.  But, it is sort of guiding, because presumably the dog gets to learn his way around.

But, these halo guides are quite expensive, and anyway, how would you know beforehand what are they called, or even that such a thing already exists?  How do you go looking?  I got lucky.  (Before I realised that a commenter had said this.)

However, what I was trying to find out was if any blind dogs are assisted by guide dogs.  But if you google that, Google just sees “blind” “guide” “dogs” and assumes the dogs are for blind humans, as they mostly are of course.  Try telling Google that you want to know about a guide dog and a blind dog.  Can’t be done.  I couldn’t do it, anyway.

Thursday October 25 2018

Remember those performing horses of Warwick Castle, galloping up and down on a thin rectangular arena, telling the story of the Wars of the Roses.  Course you do.  I showed you a spread of photos of them, but wasn’t that impressed with how those photos came out.

Well, after the show, all of us friends and family of one of the performers went backstage, so to speak, to shake hands with the guys in their armour and to say hello also to the horses.

And the photos I took of the horses seemed to me rather better:

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It helped that the horses were standing still.  It also helped that the background was much easier to choose and mostly looked quite different from the horses heads.

I also prefer the way horses look when they aren’t wearing complicated costumes.  There’s nothing like quite like a horse, unclothed, in sunshine.

That hoods that a couple of the horses are wearing are not cruel.  They’re to keep the flies off their eyes.

The actual war horses that fought the Wars of the Roses would have been a lot stockier and heavier than these horses.  These ones are retired race horses.  Which is okay, because they are actors.

Friday October 19 2018

More and more of my photo-time is spent collating the photos I have already taken.  Last night, for instance, I went looking for (more) photos of London taxis with adverts on them.  There is something especially appealing, to me anyway, about a large number of objects all exactly the same shape, but each decorated differently.  (Some time, I must go searching for my photos of elephants.)

Equally appealing, to me, were those Gormley Men.  In that case, each Man was the same, and undecorated in the more usual and rather bland sculpture way.  But, each one was in a different place and a different sort of setting.  My Gormley Men photos did not need collating, because Gormley had already collated them, by putting all his Men in the same part of London at the same time.  Therefore my photos of the Gormley Men mostly collated themselves.

Not so the elephants, or taxis.  When looking for taxis, I am looking for taxis photoed in the course of all manner of different photo-expeditions each with their own directories.

But my point is that in the course of all this taxi-collating, I was clicking through literally thousands of non-taxi photos, and I kept coming across non-taxi photos that I particularly liked.  Like (kike as in “such as” – this is not a command) this one, for instance, taken last June:

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I like doing modified cliches in writing, and I also like them photographically.  A view, for instance, of some London Thing that has been photoed to death, but put beside or in front of or behind something that is not so usual.  Most photoers would regard the above scaffolding as a problem rather than any sort of solution, to the Eros-has been photoed-to-death problem.

The scaffolding’s wrapping has the effect of clearing away all the usual clutter from Piccadilly Circus and replacing it with something a lot like sky on a dull day.  It puts Eros in an empty field in the countryside, you might say.  And yes I know, I like clutter.  But not always.

Here is another modified cliché photo:

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The Wheel has been photoed to death, and that’s a view I regularly see – and regularly photo - of it, from the point where Strutton Ground meets Victoria Street, looking down Victoria Street towards Parliament Square and beyond.  But that sky behind The Wheel made The Wheel look amazing, on that particular day in January of this year.

Finally, one of many photos I took this year of Battersea Power Station:

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The Power Station and (if you are a craniac like me) its crane cluster are the clichés.  And if you want to take the sting out of a cliché, one way is to reflect it in something.  At that point its extreme recognisability becomes more a virtue and less of a bore.  Its very clichéness becomes helpful to the photo.

This photo was taken from the upstream side of the Power Station, where there is already a big chunk of new flats up and running, with accompanying tasteless sculpture, coffee serving places and the like.  All sparked, I believe, by the new USA Embassy.

This photo of mine turns Battersea Power Station upside down.  I’ve always thought that an upside down Battersea Power Station would make a rather good table.  But, until now I never thought to go looking for such a table on the www.  Here we go.  That took about three seconds, so I bet there are plenty more that are cheaper.  This guy had the same idea, but those two links were all I could quickly find concerning this notion.

Here is another modified cliché photo of Battersea Power Station, the modification this time being smoke.

Come to think of it, all those London taxi photos I’ve been digging up are also modified cliché photos, aren’t they?  London taxi = cliché, adverts = modification.

Over the summer, a friend of mine was performing in a show at Warwick Castle about the Wars of the Roses.  And early last August a gang of her friends and family went there to see this, me among them.  It was a great show, albeit wall-to-wall Tudor propaganda, and a great day out.

Warwick Castle is quite a place, being one of Britain’s busiest visitor attractions.  It’s No 9 on this list.

I of course took a ton of photos, and in particular I photoed the horses in this show, the crucial supporting actors, you might say.  The stage was out of doors, of course, and long and thin, the audience on each side being invited to support each side in the wars.  Long and thin meant that the horses had room to do lots of galloping.

None of the photos I took were ideal, but quite a few were okay, if okay means you get an idea of what this show was like:

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The basic problem, I now realise, is that the horse heads were at the same level as the audience on the opposite side to my side.  As Bruce the Real Photographer is fond of saying, when photoing people, you start by getting the background right.  And I guess he’d say the same of horses.  Well, this time, for these horses, I’m afraid I didn’t.

So it was a case of nice legs, shame about the faces.  (That link is to a pop song from my youth, the chorus of which glued itself to my brain for ever.  I particularly like the bit where they sing: “Shame about the boat race”.)

I recommend the show’s own Real Photographer, for better photos, potted biogs of the leading historic characters, and a little bit about the enterprise that did this show.

Monday October 15 2018

Here are what I suspect to be some wise words, from Rob Fisher, in a comment on this Samizdata posting I recently did about Facebook’s political bias:

Facebook is for cat pictures, baby photos and holiday photos. I recently posted some photos of some old model trains I have and another friend offered to give me some old toy trains they don’t want any more. That’s what it’s for.

People trying to do politics on Facebook serves only to demonstrate how unsuited it is for that purpose.

That’s comment number 42, and very possibly the last word on the matter.

Like I say, this sounds wise, in the sense that it seems to contain an important truth, even if it doesn’t really sound like the whole truth.  After all, I just did another posting here about something political which I first heard about on Facebook.

Here is a photo of Rob’s toy trains that he recently posted on Facebook:

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Am I betraying a confidence, meant only for Rob’s Facebook friends?  Hardly, since Rob has already mentioned his trains on the Mainstream Media, in a comment at Samizdata.

It occurs to me that I have some toy trains that Rob might like.  Like because I think they are N gauge, but perhaps something even smaller.  Rob, if you read this, take a look at them next time you visit me.

Friday October 12 2018

Somewhat over a year ago I wrote about When what I think it is determines how ugly or beautiful I feel it to be, in connection with this building:

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This is described, at any rate by its owners and its various occupants, as The Peak.

And that photo of mine above, taken from the top of the Westminster Cathedral Tower, is my Peak photo which best illustrates the oddly deceptive appearance of this decidedly odd-looking building.  It looks like a 60s rectangular lump, to which 90s or 00s curvatures, on the right as we look, and on the top, have been added.  But, as I discovered when concocting that previous posting, the whole thing was built all at once.  It looks like a two-off building rather than a one-off building, but looks deceive, or deceived me, for a while.  Two-off good, one-off bad, was how I had been thinking.  It was two-off, so (aesthetically) good.  Organic, additive, blah blah.  But, what was I supposed to think, on discovering that it was really an inorganic and un-additive one-off?

Now, buried in my photo-archives, I find this photo, taken on October 28th 2008, which confirms that The Peak is indeed a one-off, because here it is (here it was), all being built in one go.  There really is no doubt about it:

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When I took this photo, I was a lot more interested in the anti-pigeon spikes on top of those street lamps, and on top of the railway sign, than I was in the building work in the background.

How I now feel about The Peak, aesthetically, is that I still rather like it, if only because I have paid so much attention to it over the years, and feel sort of proprietorial towards it, as you would towards a somewhat clumsy child that you have adopted.  (That feeling applies, for me, to a great many London buildings.)

Also, whatever else you think of it, when you see it, you at once know where you are.  It is very recognisable, recognisability being a quality in buildings which I appreciate more and more.  “Iconic” is the rather silly word that estate agents and suchlike use to allude to this quality.  But they have a point, even if they use a silly word to point to their point.  That “you could be anywhere” feeling is not a good one, in a city or anywhere else.

“Other creatures” (see below) because of the pigeon scaring.

Tuesday October 09 2018

When I google “crane”, what I want to see is tall pointy things made of metal for shifting stuff around on building sites, not birds posing en masse in a lake.  You can’t always get what you want.

A further illustration of that same principle came when, this morning, I had reason to google “canada goose”, because this time I actually wanted to learn about a bird.  I photoed some lines of birds a while back, in Rye, and blog pal 6k commented today that they were probably Canada geese.  And because 6k backed this up with some migration info that seemed quite informed, this sounded right, despite the fact that Rye is nowhere near to Canada.

So I googled “canada goose”.

But what I got was lots of expensive jackets with furry hoods.  Even after two pages of links to stuff about the jackets, there was literally no mention of any bird.

You can’t sell a bird for thousand quid, I guess.  Or, not a bird like a Canada goose.  I am not the customer of Google.  I am Google’s product.  Overpriced jacket sellers are Google’s customer.

However, if you google canada geese, sanity is restored.  And I think Canada geese migrating is even better.  It would appear from the images you get if you look there that Canada geese do often form great big mobs, fish shoal style.  It can take them a while to get organised into lines.

Sunday October 07 2018

If I had a pound for every time someone’s told me that they like to photo The Wheel from Tottenham Court Road, I wouldn’t have any more pounds than I already have, because it’s just me that likes to do this.  But, I really like it.

I’m talking about photos like this one:

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Great light there, don’t you think?  It could be an oil painting.  Exactly as it came out of the camera, no Photoshop(clone)ing.  That dates from April of 2015.  As you can see, that weird entrance to Tottenham Court Road Tube station was still under construction.

Here’s a couple more, taken in 2016 …:

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... and in 2017:

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That crane there should have told me that something ominous was in the works, but actually I was taken by surprise.

Take a look at what the same scene looked like today:

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That’s right.  The Wheel is about to blotted out of this particular picture.

I moved nearer, which moved the top of the Wheel down to the bottom gap in the structure:

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I took a final close up:

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And that may well be the last time that I ever photo The Wheel from Tottenham Court Road.

Friday October 05 2018

Busy day doing other things besides this, but here are a couple of Other Creatures snaps, the Other Creatures in this case being birds.

Last Saturday evening, I and some friends were in the southern coastal town (one of the so-called Cinque Ports) of Rye.  As it was getting dark, a big line of birds flew over us.  I snatched this shot, which you can get all of by clicking on this rotated and horizontalised slice:

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Then another squadron of birds flew over, this time in a V shape, which means that this next horizontalisation is a bit less thin:

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So, two lines, joined at the front, all following the one top dog bird.

Again, click to get the original.

Rye is a “port” that isn’t much of a port anymore, because a thousand years of river mud has pushed the sea away from it.  The houses in my two photos are recent, where there used to be sea, a bit away from the centre.  The centre, i.e. the whole of the old town, is on a hill, which used to be an island.

I think the birds are geese, but I really do not know.  For the benefit of birdophiles, this full-size crop from out of another photo I took, of the first line of birds above, should narrow it down:

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Those look far too big to be - I don’t know - starlings.  And, I surmise, rather too well organised. Starlings just swirl about in a big mob, like fishes, right?  Come to think of it, do any fishes line up like these big birds?  I ought to be asking the internet this, but I’m off to bed.

Friday September 21 2018

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda. 

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London.  But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons.  And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons.  These are solid looking and scary.  You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed.  We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir Wiiliam Chambers in 1762.  The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed.  Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840.  Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public?  Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs.  You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall.  Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks.  What do they call those things?  Trees.  Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor.  On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

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And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons.  The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the old-time originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

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I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon.  Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one?  But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings?  Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class.  This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend.  There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle - rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument.  Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards.  So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs.  If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect.  The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos.  But that look works, I think.  And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Friday September 14 2018

Last Sunday morning I was trying to have a good old lie-in, but instead I got woken up early by a giant anteater.

Yes.  Having been woken up, I looked out my window towards where all the din seemed to be coming from, and this was the scene I beheld:

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At first I thought the culprit might be that refuse lorry in the foreground, but it soon because clear that the noise had been coming from that red lorry with the crane-like thing attached to it.

Let’s move in closer:

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By the time this photo had been photoed, the big red lorry had lifted its nozzle out of that hole in the pavement on the right there, which I subsequently learned had been dug in connection with electric cables.  Evidently there was muck in the hole which needed to be got out, in a hurry.  Sometimes technology really sucks.

I was intrigued, and at first greatly puzzled, by picture on the side of the red lorry, and it took me quite a while to work it out.  It is a giant anteater.  It looks like at least two creatures, pointing in opposite directions, but the “other creature” is, or so I believe, the giant anteater’s giant tail.  That tail being a lot of what makes the anteater a giant.

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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I can see why an anteater would have a very long nose.  But why the enormous tail?  Balance, perhaps?  The answer offered here says balance, and also maybe to cover itself when sleeping.  It seems to be mixed up with the anteater having a low body temperature, the tail being there partly to keep heat out.  So, perhaps also some kind of fan?  I couldn’t find a confident answer.

As for the gizmo deployed at the back of the lorry, note how this time, a bendy arm with a tube in it does make use of a bendy tube, unlike that machine for squirting concrete that I mentioned here earlier.  Guess: not so much pressure this time, not least because the material itself being sucked up (this time) is not so heavy and bulky.  Some pressure, but not so much.

That phone number of the side of the lorry got me to the enterprise that supplied this equipment.  But follow that link and you’ll find no mention of any red lorries with anteaters on the side.  By which I mean, I didn’t.

Saturday September 08 2018

Earlier in the week, on my way to St James’s Park tube, and again on my way back home from St James’s Park tube, I photoed what I described to Google as a “concrete pump”.

This concrete pump was helping to build a clutch of apartment blocks where the old New Scotland Yard used to be, before New Scotland Yard moved to a new New Scotland Yard, back where the original Scotland Yard used once to be.

I got enough images to suggest that a “concrete pump” is indeed what this extraordinary contraption is, but not enough to suggest that I had named the contraption correctly, using the preferred words of those who deploy it.

Nevertheless, enjoy.  I did, especially the close-ups of the joints.

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All this, just to be able to squirt concrete from a lorry into a hole.  (I’m guessing, from the invisibility of building action behind all the solid fences, that his concrete was for the foundations.  This being where concrete, as opposed to steel on its own, still seems to be essential.) And with a big long arm like that one, with all its joints, I’m guessing it can reach all sorts of complicated and out-of-the-way spots.  (If you guess that I do a lot of guessing when I see something like this, then you guess right.)

There must be a reason why they don’t use a flexible tube, but have to make do with a rigid tube, but with the occasional rotating joint.  So elaborate are those joints that they end up looking biological rather than merely mechanical.  So, as with the previous posting, also about technology rather than biology, I have categorised this posting as, among other things, “other creatures”.  (I’ve also added “sculpture” to the category list.  Does regular sculpture come any better than this?  Sometimes maybe, but not very often.)

The concrete itself must be a marvel of blending and general wonderfulness.  Able to travel as a near-liquid along this elaborate pipe, under (guess) great pressure (another guess: that’s why the pipe has to be made of metal rather than of something bendier), but then able, at exactly the right time, to solidify in the deep cylindrical holes into which it is squirted.  At which point it has to stay solid for ever.  (Is something added, at the critical moment, to make it solidify?)

There is much that is very wrong with the world.  This sort of stuff is what is very right with the world.