Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on Christmas tree with scaffolding
michael fallon on Russia unleashes tiger on China
Alastair on Santa's tired helpers
dodgy geezer on Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
michael fallon on Halloween buckets
Michael Hiteshew on Sign blocked by surveillance camera
Michael on Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
Simon Gibbs on My digital photos on his TV
Simon Gibbs on On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
Mark Rousell on Hot dog shadow selfie
Most recent entries
- Hirst’s Hymn outside the Tate Gallery
- To Covent Garden (3): Cat that looks a bit like a dog
- To Covent Garden (2): Rough roofs – smooth roof
- Christmas tree with scaffolding
- Santa’s tired helpers
- To Covent Garden (1): The twisty footbridge
- Trousers keyboard
- Cameras photoing the Wheel (in 2007)
- Was Guy’s Tower a key building in the architectural history of London?
- Photo-drone wars to come
- A link and a photo of a photographer
- Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science
- Sign blocked by surveillance camera
- My digital photos on his TV
- ASI Christmas Party photos
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
Guido Fawkes' blog
Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
Liberty Dad - a World Without Dictators
Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
More Than Mind Games
Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism
My Boyfriend Is A Twat
My Other Stuff
Nation of Shopkeepers
Never Trust a Hippy
Non Diet Weight Loss
Nurses for Reform blog
Obnoxio The Clown
On an Overgrown Path
One Man & His Blog
Owlthoughts of a peripatetic pedant
Oxford Libertarian Society /blog
Patri's Peripatetic Peregrinations
Police Inspector Blog
Private Sector Development blog
Remember I'm the Bloody Architect
Setting The World To Rights
SimonHewittJones.com The Violin Blog
Sky Watching My World
Social Affairs Unit
Squander Two Blog
Stuff White People Like
Stumbling and Mumbling
Technology Liberation Front
The Adam Smith Institute Blog
The Becker-Posner Blog
The Belgravia Dispatch
The Belmont Club
The Big Blog Company
The Big Picture
the blog of dave cole
The Corridor of Uncertainty (a Cricket blog)
The Daily Ablution
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Kitchen
The Dissident Frogman
The Distributed Republic
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Examined Life
The Fly Bottle
The Freeway to Serfdom
The Future of Music
The Happiness Project
The Jarndyce Blog
The London Fog
The Long Tail
The Lumber Room
The Online Photographer
The Only Winning Move
The Policeman's Blog
The Road to Surfdom
The Wedding Photography Blog
The Welfare State We're In
UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog
UK Libertarian Party
Violins and Starships
we make money not art
What Do I Know?
What's Up With That?
Where the grass is greener
White Sun of the Desert
Why Evolution Is True
Your Freedom and Ours
Arts & Letters Daily
Bjørn Stærk's homepage
Butterflies and Wheels
Dark Roasted Blend
Digital Photography Review
Ghana Centre for Democratic Reform
Global Warming and the Climate
History According to Bob
Institut économique Molinari
Institute of Economic Affairs
Ludwig von Mises Institute
Oxford Libertarian Society
The Christopher Hitchens Web
The Space Review
The TaxPayers' Alliance
This is Local London
UK Libertarian Party
Victor Davis Hanson
WSJ.com Opinion Journal
Bits from books
Bloggers and blogging
Brian Micklethwait podcasts
Cats and kittens
Food and drink
How the mind works
Media and journalism
Middle East and Islam
My blog ruins
Signs and notices
The Micklethwait Clock
This and that
Category archive: How the mind works
A moment ago I had a twenty first century moment. I thought: Wouldn’t it be great to have a keyboard on the top of your thighs, embedded in the front of the top of the legs of your trousers. You could then type wherever, perhaps combined with a pair of those google glasses that you also wear perpetually. And it could all add up to a mega-computer if combined with a big cycle helmet full of electro-magic.
The point being that typing is never going to go away. The QWERTY keyboard is permanently with us, I think.
So, what about that top-of-your-trousers keyboard? Time was when a thought is all that such a thought could ever be. But now, no sooner is the thought thought than it is googled:
Brilliant. It’s not market-ready yet, but they’re working on it.
Gotta love that Golden Age.
Although, great though the basic idea is, I can’t help feeling that (a) washing and/or cleaning might be an issue, and (b) the keyboard needs to be separable from the trousers by some means. Maybe just strapped on, or something. What if the keyboard malfunctions? Do you then have to chuck away the jeans? What if the jeans catch on fire? Is the mere keyboard then any use? Problems problems. This, after all, is why keyboards originally separated themselves from personal computers.
But like I say, the basic idea is a very good start.
Maybe in the longer run, the future of the mobile keyboard is that your Goggle Spex will project a keyboard onto a nearby surface (and then keep that keyboard still even when you move your head around), which it will then observe your fingers typing on.
But basically we are talking about the next iteration of the personal computer. First, big old box in the office. Second, big old luggable/portable “laptop”. Third, little toy in your pocket that you can peck at. And now fourth, this. A real computer than you can wear all the time and type into whenever, wherever, within less than a second of whatever you want to type occurring to you. Had I been on a train when I had this notion, I could not then have done this blog posting. That is what needs to change, much more conveniently than it has so far changed.
I just chanced upon this list of London’s twenty tallest buildings. What I particularly like about this list is that it includes date of construction.
No less that sixteen of these tall buildings were built during this century. The other four are: One Canada Square (the pointy Docklands one), “Tower 42” (aka the Natwest Building), the “South Bank Tower”, and the Guy’s Tower (aka the ugly little monster now dwarfed by and right next to the Shard). Those are all twentieth century. All the rest are twenty first century.
That last one, the Guy’s Tower was, when first perpetrated, the tallest building in London. I did not know this. Now it holds the number eighteen spot.
That’s a picture I took of the middle of the Shard and of the top of Guy’s Tower from Blackfriars Station (the one on the bridge) when both that station and the Shard were still being constructed, in 2012. I chose that picture because in it, the Guy’s Tower looks particularly ugly and bedraggled and stained and horrible.
I recently speculated that the Guy’s Tower might have made the Shard possible, by destroying all concerns about aesthetic suitability in its area. Now I am starting to suspect that it may have had an even more profound effect, on the whole of London. I mean, if that horrid Thing is the tallest Thing London has, then the sooner we build lots of other taller Things the better. That’s what I would have been thinking in the seventies, if I had been thinking about London Things at all at that time.
What I am saying, to spell it out, is that if that Guy’s Tower had not been built at all, then the subsequent architectural history of London might have been very different, and far less interesting.
When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party. That’s right. The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall). I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them. I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks. I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they. Or so she said. The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.
So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister. When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes. But, two many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.
So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy. Three things, however, cheered me up.
First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes. And it turns out that he has a new blog. How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all. I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me. Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out. I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing. Was this uncouth? Probably. Would I look like an old prick? Presumably. But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway. And immediately I cheered up. Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking. And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached. Oh dear. “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick? And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it. And what did he say? He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect. Hah! I was now an officially designated photographer. I was someone. Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me. Hurrah!
And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.
Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography. Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties. But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.
All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do. But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them. So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting. This I promise.
I have had a Samizdata postings slump recently. I haven’t done many such postings lately, and very lately none at all. This is something that I have kept meaning to correct, for something like the last fortnight, but each day I think, well, another day won’t hurt, not that much. Each passing day adds the same small amount of silence to the silence total, but a diminishing percentage of silence to the silence total. Thus, each day of silence feels that tiny bit less culpable than the one before.
But today I snapped out of it, with a posting about photography. Not fun photography, of the sort I mostly do. Photography in and around Israel, photography that tells important lies about Israel.
Here is the picture at the top of the article I linked to:
And see also: this Samizdata posting of mine from way back, which includes a recollection about an anti-Enoch-Powell demo organised by a Daily Telegraph photographer.
A common complaint about modern architecture is that it is “faceless”. Tending not to feature single separate windows, but rather showing a bland expanse of featureless outsideness to the world, modernistical buildings do not allow the viewing human to see what the viewing human always wants to see, faces, turning the windows into eyes, doors into mouths, and so forth.
But there is no problem with seeing faces in this building, in Rome, because someone has painted twenty seven faces on it, with the windows being – what else? - eyes:
The pieces utilizes nearly 50 windows to create the mouths and eyes of some 27 bizarre faces all vying for attention.
Although, I see that two of the windows there are mouths.
It all looks a bit graffitiish to me, although as this lady says, this is “artful, thoughtful graffiti”. (In other words the kind of thing that favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley likes to photo.) And I think it’s a bit of a shame to do this to an old building, rather than to a new one. But if the alternative is for this old building to just continue crumbling, then this is surely better. I’m sure it is already a tourist attraction. It would definitely attract me.
But, I look forward to the day when buildings like this one get decked out with lots of different colours (that being another Mick Hartley photo).
From time to time I like to stick bits from books up here, usually quite short, but sometimes quite long.
With the short bits, there is no legal or moral problem. Fair use, etc. But with the longer bits, there might be a problem. Here’s how I operate. I put up whatever bit it is that I think deserves to be made much of, on the clear understanding that it might disappear at any moment. Because, if anyone associated with the book I have got my chosen bit from complains and says please remove it, I will do so, immediately.
Many might think that such persons would be being rather silly. I mean, what better way could there be to reach potential readers of the entire book in question than for readers of a blog, and a blog written by someone who already likes the book, to get to read a relatively small chunk of it? Win-win, surely. Because of course, I only put up big chunks of writing if I approve of what the chunks say.
But what if a publisher is trying to insist on the principle, that copyright damn well means what it says? Such a publisher might want to proclaim, and to be seen to proclaim, a no-tolerance attitude to the copying of bigger than small bits of any its books. Even if that particular book might be assisted by this particular recycled chunk being here, the larger principle might feel far more significant to the publisher. That principle being: If we allow this, where will it then stop?
And I get that. As I say, if any publisher or author did complain, for these kinds of reasons or for any other, then I would get it, and the bit from the book in question would at once vanish from this blog. So far, I’ve had no such complaints. Which could just be because they reckon this blog to be too insignificant to be worth risking a fight with. They wouldn’t have a fight, but they might have a rule about letting sleeping puppies, like this one, lie.
Whatever. All I am saying here is that if I put up a big bit of a book, and anyone connected to that big bit cries foul, then the big bit will immediately vanish from here, with no grumbling, or worse, self-righteous campaigning, attempts to mobilise other bloggers, etc. etc.
Think of all this as an example of Rule Utilitarianism. And I am myself a Rule Utilitarian. My libertarian beliefs are not the absurd claim that libertarianism is inscribed into the very physical fabric of the universe, an inherent fact of life itself, which we humans either recognise or fail to recognise, but which are there anyway. Tell that to the spider I just squashed into the pavement on my way home to write this. No, I like libertarianism because it works. Libertarianism is a set of basically fairly simply rules which all we humans either choose to live by or choose not to live by. If we choose to live by these rules, life is good, happy, comfortable and it gets better and better. If we don’t live by such rules, life goes to shit and stays there.
And here comes the Rule Utilitarian bit. Even if this particular bit of thieving, by the government or just by some bod like you or me, is very insignificant, and even if what the government or the bod like you or me wants to spend its or his or her ill-gotten gains on is wonderful, absolutely wonderful, my rule says: No. Not allowed. Don’t get into complicated discussions about just how little thieving is too little to be bothering about, or just how noble a noble project has to be for it to be noble enough to be financed by a spot of thieving, because that way lies the slippery slope we are now on, where the government gobbles up at least half of everything, to very little benefit for anyone other than itself. Stick to the rule. No thieving, no matter how petty its scale or how noble its supposed object.
So, I get Rule Utilitarianism. And if any publisher decides to inflict his Rule Utilitarianism, in the manner described above, upon me, I would get that, and act accordingly.
What got me wanting to spell all this out is that I have recently been reading Dominic Frisby’s excellent Bitcoin book, and I find myself wanting to put bits of it up here, quite longish bits. And in general, having just followed the link at the top of this and read some of them, I feel that postings of this sort are among the better things that I do here, and I want to do more of them. But, to all of the bits from books that will follow, I want to attach the above mentioned caveat about how the verbiage that follows may vanish without warning, and a link to this posting is the way to summarise what is going on in my head without me banging on for however many paragraphs there are here.
This morning I did a rather negative would-be posting about some Art, Art which had at first rather appealed to me but which, upon further consideration, I decided I did not much like or admire.
But then I realised that my rule for stuff that other people are doing with their own time and money and others are buying and enjoying with their own money and time is for me just to walk away. Why moan? The world is full of stuff I don’t much care for. So long as I don’t get taxed to pay for it, or made to pay attention to it against my will, what on earth is the point of me seeking it out and bitching about it?
For me, this is one of the great benefits that has been brought about by the internet. In the age of the mass media, you had this whole tribe of professional hacks who, day after day, week after week, were made to pay attention to things which quite often they would rather not have been paying attention to. Inevitably, an air of irritation, even hatred, entered the souls and writings of these people. The subtext, and often the text, was: I wouldn’t have picked this in the first place. Only the Culture vultures who really were allowed to pick whatever cultural prey they were inclined to descend upon were able to communicate genuine pleasure, because they were the only Culture vultures who truly felt pleasure. The rest of Culture writing was a mixture of grudging reportage and grumbling, with the occasional cheer when some hack found himself not clock watching, not trying to think of what the hell nice things he could say about something he considered nasty, or worse, just … shrug.
But now a tidal wave of amateurs has crashed into the culture-writing game and it has become, well, a game. It has become fun. We bloggers and twitterers pick on stuff we like, and say: hey, this is cool, this is fun, this is good, this is something I really enjoyed immersing myself in. Maybe you’ll like it too. Commenters and other twitterers then say things like: well, I prefer this, or this, or that or that. If, on the other hand, you said you didn’t like something or other, the response from other www-chatterers is, not unnaturally, just to say: well then why the rude word do you waste your time moaning about it? Walk away. If what you are moaning about is some Big Thing, heavily promoted, made much of, that everyone else seems to be paying attention to, fair enough, you are warning the rest of us off it. But if it is just some little thing you found on the internet and you don’t like it, so rude-word-ing what?
For as long as there was just the one big Culture, that the media people agreed or had to agree was It, then all who wanted to be Cultural had to pay attention to that Culture, whether they liked It or not. It was their duty, just as it was the duty of professional Culture-writers to write about It, to pay attention to It. There was an air of joylessness and obligation about It all, like a queue in a passport office.
Favourite-blogger-of-mine Mick Hartley has written from time to time about the way that Art is now turning into fairground entertainment, often implying that this is a bad thing. I also notice this when I visit London’s South Bank Arts enclave, which now has a much more “visitor attraction” feel to it than it used to have. Hartley does do quite a lot of moaning, but mostly the Cultural stuff he does now is drawing attention to something he likes, thinks deserves to be more noticed, more enjoyed, more celebrated. His posting today is a perfect example of this. It’s not Art, it’s street art. Street art is fun, it appeals to people, and it is also where a lot of the official Art action is now, because the Artists know that these street people are upstaging them.
Political money is now tighter than it was a decade and more ago, and if the Arts fraternity want yet more money, they must try appealing to their audiences rather than baffling them or insulting them. They must now try to give pleasure, the way they tended not to in the twentieth century.
But there is more than economics going on here. After all, there is still a hell of a lot of Official Money being competed for. There is still a great big Culture out there, still being paid for, if not enjoyed. No, the other difference is that there is also that damned internet out there, where regular punters get to say what they really think about it all. If they are being got at by Culture, they can now get back at it, by saying: bollocks, and: I prefer this, or this, or that or that. It’s a different world.
And you’ll never know what it was I just moaning about. I will instead look for other things, that I actually like.
The sort of place I will be looking will be at places like Colossal, which, by the way, is where I found the thing that I liked at first but then didn’t like, that got me started on all this. I don’t like everything at Colossal by any means. But I like a lot of it.
Or, maybe this is really a posting that is not really about Art as such, more about getting old, as so many postings here are. As you get old, you stop worrying about what Art is, if you are one of those people who ever did worry. You just stop paying attention to Art, as in: Where Art Is Going. It will go where it goes, and you go where you want to go. It’s not the world getting happier. It’s not Art getting more fun. It’s just you. It’s just me.
Ah blogging. You can change your mind in mid posting, or even right at the end if you feel inclined. What’s that you say? You disapprove. I must make up my mind. Must I? I tell you what, you go away and read something else, something you’d prefer. This was just a bit of fun, and for you it wasn’t. Forget about it.
Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones. My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it. (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)
A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour. But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.
Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year. Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:
The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much. Google google. Here we go. The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question. It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.
But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people. It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people. For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter. Or … not. Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.
Not for most people. Just for some people. And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.
In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.
Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.
Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:
Now that may not seem very interesting. But it interests me greatly. It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was. For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way. The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.
Judging by this photo ...:
… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground. These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms. Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line. They were rhapsodising. It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on. And I agree with them. Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.
And that was just inside a tube train. When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours. Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube. That is quite a difference. I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me. At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.
Classic photo of photoers (which I found here):
It’s the new see through walkway at the top of Tower Bridge. All the reportage concentrates on what you can see looking down through it. But when I visit, I am going to check out what you can see photoing through it from below. Which will have the added benefit of being far cheaper.
Zoom lenses are rather good these days.
And guess what, I actually want other people to have the same idea, so I can photo them photoing upwards also.
I like this kind of thing, this particular thing being the back entrance to a hotel in the vicinity of one of my local tube stations, St James’s Park, photoed by me earlier this evening:
Looking at the photos that others like to take - even characters in tv adverts for goodness sakes - I don’t think I’m the only one who likes such things as this. We are talking totally conventional aesthetics here. The cutting edge of aesthetics, as practised by people half my age who do aesthetics for a living or who try to, has presumably gone to other places entirely.
(Part of) what I like about this is that this composition was not actually composed. It looks so artful, but it absolutely is not. It is all rectangles because that is the most convenient shape for the back entrance of a hotel to be, not because its designer had been immersing himself in the work of Piet Mondrian. And the piper are where they are, not because the pipist who did them is a sculptor manqué, but because that is where they need to be, to do what they do.
(The earlier versions of “piper” in the previous paragraph were, first: pipemonger; and then: pipist. There already is a word for a person who pipes, but I didn’t want to waste those earlier efforts.)
One of the problems of big arrays of Poppies is that, like at funerals, you feel a certain pressure to adopt the proper tone of solemnity, like you being solemn is going to stop the First World War having happened, or something. No, really, I do get it. It’s very sad, what with all those soldiers having died, and what with lots of the people present perhaps remembering particular departed loved ones. You probably shouldn’t be enjoying yourself too obviously.
And in particular, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. But, you do it anyway:
But maybe that is just me, being a bit grumpy, and using my grumpiness as an excuse to violate the privacy of strangers who really weren’t doing anything very wrong. Nobody else seemed to have any problem with these selfie takers. The feeling seemed to be: This Thing means, to you, whatever you decide it means to you. If what it means to you is a chance for you to take a smiling selfie with lots of bright red in the background, well, okay. And I think I agree.
I certainly had fun photoing these people.
Doing photography makes me happy, both as something for me to do and as something for me to photo others doing. Before digital photography, I had the usual dislike felt by people of my nationality and with my approximate level of upbringing and education for crowds of tourists, barging their way around my city, bumping into me and making me feel insignificant, like they owned the place which of course they sort of did and sort of do. The Masses were bad enough as a mere idea, but actually seeing them, Massed, made it even worse.
Tourism, I used to tell myself, unthinkingly, is not “real”. But tourism is every bit as real as an Amazonian rainforest, just as affluent suburbs are as real as inner city sink estates. And ever since I discovered the joy of photoing these crowds of tourists, tourists taking photos, photos of my city and of each other, and of themselves, I have deliberately mingled with these crowds, which basically means that I have become a tourist myself, in London, the city where I live. A state of silly and unthinking grumpiness has been replaced by a far more thoughtful and philosophically elevated state of happiness and smugness. Happiness and smugness are also just as real as misery, and my happiness and smugness is all the happier and smugger because provoked by the exact same things as I had formerly been making myself miserable about.
Crowds like those pictured below, in other words, are just as real as the events that all those red Poppies that everyone has come to see hark back to. One of the many remarkable things about these Poppies is the huge - truly enormous – scale not just of the Poppies themselves, but of the crowds of people who have journeyed to the Tower of London to look at them. Here are a couple of my better Poppies crowd shots:
My single most unforgettable Poppies Crowds Moment did not happen to me when I was actually there being a part of one of these crowds, but in a tube station in some other nearby part of central London, the weekend before last. I was on an escalator, and an intercom voice started saying that if I intended visiting the Tower of London to see The Poppies (I didn’t – not that day), then I should definitely consider using another tube station besides Tower tube station, because Tower tube station was jam packed or words to that effect. I should go instead, said the voice, to another nearby tube station (the voice offered several suggested alternatives) and walk from there, from only a little bit further away. That’s how big the crowds have been. And instead of snarling with silly rage at that announcement, I instead said to myself: I must remember to put that on my blog. Which has been another source of great happiness to me, and would have been even if I had not got stuck into photography.
A new student accommodation building is currently being erected on the far side of Westminster Bridge from me, i.e. next to the equally rotund hotel in the middle of the roundabout there.
There is a rule in architecture (which I just made up), which says that if you build a very big and very boring lump, but put another very big and very boring lump of the same shape next to it, the result can be quite pleasing. Think Twin Towers. They seem to be following this rule here.
I have been photoing the erection of this erection ever since erection began. Here are two of my latest snaps of it, taken last Friday. The picture on the right was taken from right next to the little roadside sign that you see on the bottom right of the picture on the left.
It’s hard not to interpret that two dimensional picture as three dimensional, I think you will agree. After all, the real building above the sign is also only a picture, in my pictures, and that looks suitably three dimensional, even though, in my pictures, it is actually every bit as flat as that sign is.
Subtitle for the photo above left: This is not a building. Subtitle for the photo above right: These are not buildings.
Those Tower of London Poppies are causing quite a stir, with politicians of all parties, and people too, saying they ought to stay there longer, beyond Remembrance Sunday (today), beyond 11am on Tuesday, and maybe as long as Nov 11th 2018, so as many people as want to can get to see them.
I’ve checked them out twice myself, and took many photos of the sort that are presumably now tsunaming all over cyberspace. I already mentioned these Poppy trips in passing, in this and in this and in this, but this is the first Poppy Posting here that is specificallly about The Poppies, hence the number in the title.
Here are a few of my “what it looks like” snaps (click to get them larger):
What these snaps of mine don’t show (although 2.1 and 2.3 hint at it) is the panoramic hugeness of it all. For that I turn to Goddaughter 2, who accompanied me on my first Poppies visit.
She had her mobile phone with her, which has an app for taking extremely wide photos. By combining these two snaps …:
… she arrived at this:
That is about two thirds of it. You can see all of it only in pictures like this one
I can entirely see why thousands upon thousands of people have wanted to come and gaze at these Poppies, because the effect is very striking, and the vast scale seems entirely appropriate. There is one poppy for each British soldier who died, the Britishness of the poppies being the excuse for the Guardian to have a go at it all, in such postings as this one and this one. But if I was French or German or Turkish and I saw this huge spread of poppies in London, I don’t think I’d feel that my dead ancestors were being dissed in any way. And actually, I think I did hear quite a few foreign languages being spoken when I visited. I mean, why wouldn’t a nation mourn its own dead? I didn’t feel any resentment, when I recently visited a French graveyard with lots of war dead in it, that the ancestors of me and my fellow countrymen were being omitted from the story, any more than I do when I chance upon a war memorial in England with only local local names on it. Why would I?
The odd thing is, my two personal sets of ancestors had no WW1 deaths in them, or not one that anyone in my particular little family ever talked about. This was not because of any general reluctance to talk about such things. In WW2, we lost my mum’s older and only brother, Uncle John, and that was talked about every now and then, as were the two uncles who fought in WW2 and survived. But stories about my ancestors in WW1? Nothing. I’m guessing this is a bit unusual.
My rule about being a sports fan is be very happy when your teams are winning, but relax when they aren’t. Enjoy the good stuff. Let the bad remind you that it’s just games. I am not, in other words, a “real fan”, the sort of who puts his entire happiness at the mercy of events that are wholly out of his control.
And just now I am happy, because two autumn rugby internationals have just kicked off, Wales v Australia and England v NZ, and in both games the Brit teams have scored early - and frankly very surprising – tries. 7-0 Wales. 5-0 England. This is the kind of thing you must enjoy while it is happening, without assuming that it will get any better, in fact while assuming that it is pretty much bound to get worse. Protective pessimism. Am watching Wales v Oz on the telly. Highlights of Eng NZ on the telly later.
And Australia score under the posts. 7-7 with the easy kick (yes). But, according to the BBC:
New Zealand are reeling from England’s blitz start.
Don’t you just love it when the other fellows reel. Reeling is something only now done with an -ing on the end. Why is that?
I am giving a talk on Jan 6th at Christian Michel’s about Sport Being A Substitute For War. Just thought I’d mention that. I will try to write it down and will thus be able to shove it up here afterwards.
And NZ have now scored. 5-5 with a kick to come. And Oz have now scored another. Wales 7 Oz 12 with a kick to come. I must stop. Three antipodean tries have been scored since I started writing this. It’s only games.
Or is it? Wales Oz 7-14, but Eng NZ 8-5, to England. And now Wales have scored in the corner. Wales 14 Oz 14. I remember when rugby was played in mud and you were lucky to see a single try in an entire match. So far there have been six tries in under half an hour. Make that seven because Oz have just scored again.