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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: History

Monday January 23 2017

Here:

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Click on TRUMP to get the Opera House.

This fantastically cost-effective piece of political signage reminds me of the stuff that Julian Lewis MP used do to CND demos in the eighties.  They’d put however many hundred thousand pro-Soviet bodies on the street, and he’d put one big sign across the top of Whitehall for them all the walk under, saying something like: SOVIET STOOGES.  His sign would get about half the news coverage.  Drove them nuts.

Sunday January 22 2017

Classical music making is mostly museum curation.  Nothing wrong with that, because it is the best museum ever.  But that is what it mostly is.  Perhaps for this reason, it has long been speculated that classical music would soon stop being re-performed or re-recorded.  But there seems to be little sign of this happening.

Here, to illustrate the non-demise of classical music making, is a list of currently performing pianists.  It was rather hastily compiled.  Perhaps some of those listed have retired.  Some may even have died.  And there are surely many omissions, including, quite possibly, some major omissions, including, for instance people who I am assuming to be retired or dead who are nothing of the kind.

Also, there must be a huge number of Asian pianists who are very, very good, but who I have simply not noticed the existence of.  I live in London, and this list surely reflects that, both with its inclusions and its exclusions.

The number at the end of each clutch is simply me counting how many there are starting with each letter, thereby making it easier for me to count the total.  It came to: 175.

Depending on how you determine inclusion or exclusion, the list could be far longer.  I went for things like: Have I personally heard of them?  Have they done recent recording?  Are they hailed as good by classical music critics?  Do I personally like their playing?

I seriously doubt whether there have ever before been as many pianists roaming the earth, performing this amazing music, mostly by dead people.

So, here we go:

Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Dimitri Alexeev - Piotr Anderszewski - Leif Ove Andsnes - Nicholas Angelich - Martha Argerich - Vladimir Ashkenazy - Yulianna Avdeeva - (8)

Sergei Babayan - Andrea Bacchetti - Daniel Barenboim - Martin James Bartlett – Jean-Efflam-Bavouzet - Alessio Bax - Mark Bebbington - Markus Becker - Boris Berezovsky - Boris Berman - Michel Beroff - Kristian Bezuidenhout - Jonathan Biss - Christian Blackshaw - Rafal Blechacz - Frank Braley - Ronald Brautigam - Yefim Bronfman - Rudolf Buchbinder - Khatia Buniatishvili - (20)

Bertrand Chamayou - Frederic Chiu - Seong-Jin Cho - Arnaldo Cohen - Imogen Cooper - (5)

Alexandra Dariescu - Lise de la Salle - Jorg Demus - Jeremy Denk - Peter Donohoe - Barry Douglas - Danny Driver - Francois-Rene Duchable (8)

Severin von Eckardstein - Michael Endres - Karl Engel - (3)

Til Fellner - Vladimir Feltsman - Janina Fialkowska - Ingrid Fliter - David Fray - Nelson Freire - Benjamin Frith - (7)

Ivana Gavric - Alexander Gavrylyuk - Boris Giltberg - Havard Gimse - Bernd Glemser - Nelson Goerner - Anna Gourari - David Greilsammer - Helene Grimaud - Benjamin Grosvenor - Horacio Guitierrez - Francois-Frederic Guy - (12)

Marc-Andre Hamelin - Wolf Harden - Rustem Hayrouodinoff - Martin Helmchen - Angela Hewitt - Peter Hill - Ian Hobson - Stephen Hough - Leslie Howard - Ching-Yun Hu - Bruce Hungerford - (11)

Valentina Igoshina - Ivan Ilic - (2)

Peter Jablonski - Paul Jacobs - Ingrid Jakoby - Martin Jones - (3)

Cyprien Katsaris - Freddy Kempf - Kevin Kenner - Olga Kern - Evgeny Kissin - Mari Kodama - Pavel Kolesnikov - (7)

Piers Lane - Lang Lang - Dejan Lazic - Eric Le Sage - John Lenehan - Elizabeth Leonskaja - Igor Levit - Daniel Levy - Paul Lewis - Yundi Li - Jenny Lin - Jan Lisiecki - Valentina Lisitsa - Louis Lortie = Alexei Lubimov - Nikolai Lugansky - (16)

Joanna MacGregor - Alexander Madzar - Oleg Marshev - Denis Matsuev - Leon McCawley - Alexander Melnikov - Gabriela Montero - Joseph Moog - Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Olli Mustonen - (10)

Jon Nakamatsu - Eldar Nebolsin - Francesco Nikolosi - David Owen Norris - (4)

Noriko Ogawa - Garrick Ohlsson - Gerhard Oppitz - Christina Ortiz - Steven Osborne - Alice Sara Ott - (6)

Enrico Pace - Murray Perahia - Javier Perianes - Alfredo Perl - Maria Perrotta - Daniel-Ben Pienaar - Maria Joao Pires - Artur Pizarro - Jonathan Plowright - Awadagin Pratt - Menahem Pressler - Vassily Primakov - (12)

Beatrice Rana - James Rhodes - Pascal Roge - Alexander Romanovsky - Martin Roscoe - Michael Rudy - (6)

Fazil Say - Konstantin Scherbakov - Andras Schiff - Dimitris Sgouros - Howard Shelley - Grigory Sokolov - Andreas Staier - Kathryn Stott - Martin Stadtfeld - Yevgeny Sudbin - (10)

Alexandre Tharaud - Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Cedric Tiberghien - Sergio Tiempo - Geoffrey Tozer - Daniil Trifonov - Simon Trpceski - Noboyuki Tsujii - (9)

Mitsuko Uchida - Florian Uhlig - (2)

Nick Van Bloss - Denes Varjon - Stephan Vladar - Lars Vogt - Arcadi Volodos - (6)

Wiayin Wang - Yuja Wang - Ashley Wass - Llyr Williams - Ingolf Wunder - Klara Wurtz - (6)

Christian Zacharias - Krystian Zimmerman – (2)

That’s a lot of pianists.  All the major items of the piano repertoire have each received numerous recordings, and they each get performed somewhere on earth about every other day, and in the case of the popular piano concertos, several times a day.  It just refuses to stop.  The classical audience keeps aging, and then dying, only to be replaced by more aging people, who also then die, and so it goes on.

Real comments here are very rare, so all real comments on this would be very welcome.  But especially welcome would be comments informing me of major omissions to that list.

Saturday January 21 2017

I finally arrive at the official designated purpose of my Tottenham expedition back in November, which was to check out progress on the new stadium.

Here is what this was looking like.  Lots of cranes.  Lots of scaffolding.  And big signs on the perimeter fence celebrating glorious moments in Spurs history:

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2.1, in pleasing contrast to the masculinities of football and construction, a girly bus goes by.

3.2 features how the new stadium will look from above.

It will be entertaining to return in a couple of years time, to see how it all ends up looking.

In this report, you can see more pictures of progress, viewed from above.

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At present Spurs seem to be doing rather well.  Today, they drew with Man City, having been two goals adrift, which was a result, and they are in second place in the Premiership.

I had been expecting them to be doing rather badly just now, what with this new custom built headquarters being now under construction.

Thursday January 19 2017

I took the photo with this marriage proposal in it in March of 2009, in Sheffield.  All I thought I was photoing was a footbridge (I like footbridges) with graffiti on it.  Did I even clock it was a marriage proposal?  Maybe, but if so, I immediately forgot about it.

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Click on that, and you actually get a different picture, which shows two footbridges rather than just the one, which means I prefer it.  Two footbridges on top of each other is a bit strange.

Pictures are hard to google, or hard if you are me.  Can you now say to Google: “Show me all the pictures you have like this one”?  Maybe you can, but I can’t.  But words I can do.  And I just typed “clare middleton i love you …” (helpfully, the graffitist supplied a name) and google immediately got what I was on about, and, well, here‘s the story:

One spring day in 2001 a tall man walked into Sheffield’s Park Hill flats and along a street in the sky. He strode past the brutalist flanks, out on to the footbridge. He thought: this’ll do.

Jason didn’t look down; he gets vertigo and he was 13 storeys up. He leaned over in his yellow Puffa jacket and sprayed her name. “Clare” came out haphazardly and “Middleton” hit the ledge. He planned to take her to the Roxy on the facing hill, to show her. So now he began again, bigger, clearer: “I LOVE YOU WILL U MARRY ME”. It was his two-fingers-up at the social services office opposite. He scarpered. Seeing it, Grenville, one of the estate’s caretakers, said to the on-site office: “How are we going to get that off?”

They didn’t. The graffiti stayed, high above the city, while the city argued about what to do with the flats. Park Hill, the concrete estate behind the railway station, had become notorious. The city projected abandonment on to Park Hill, so the graffiti started to look like love yelling at the top of its voice in an estate thought to be desolate.

Soon it was also looking like PR. ...

It wasn’t a happy story, ever, and it had no happy ending.

Park Hill, Sheffield, is one of those famous bits of architecture that the architects go on and on about, but which the public hated, until such time as this public said to knock it all down, at which point it became clear that a different part of the public had grown quite fond of the thing.

One of the architects of Park Hill was a man called Ivor Smith, in whose office I worked, briefly, when I was trying to be an architect.  He was personally a hugely likeable man, with a delightful family who put up with me when I was at maximum unputupwithability.  But, his politics did not appeal to me, and those Park Hill buildings were all part of that.

Tuesday January 17 2017

The trick with photography is knowing what to photo in the first place.  In particular, you need to be photoing things that are not going to be the same if you come back later.  Photoing captures the ephemeral, far better than it celebrates the eternal.  This being why people like photoing their kids.  Soon, they’ll be different.  But, a photo of Big Ben?  It’s been done.  A lot.  No point in another of those.

Or what about something else that changes, like the price of a piece of electronics?  I took this photo of such a price, in February 2005:

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I have helpfully picked out the price and photo-enhanced it, so you can read it without any clicking.  That’s a terrible photo, technically, but no other photo in that directory ("miscFeb05") is anywhere near as entertaining.

You can now get a telly that is the same shape and size as that one was, and presumably far better to look at, for one fifteenth of that price.

I love how it is reduced from £7,999.99.  So if you had bought it then, you’d have saved five hundred quid!  Now five hundred quid is the entire cost.  (Which you can now save by not buying it.)

Sunday January 15 2017

In the cold and muggy January of 2017, I and my aching limbs are spending a lot of time indoors.  And many of the photos I am looking at were taken long ago.

Here is one that I took in, if my (very first digital) camera is to be believed, March of 2000.  It also claims that it was taken at “01.31”, but I believe Big Ben:

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The obviously out of date thing about that picture is the big Le Corbusian slabs of the old Department of the Environment, about to the demolished and replaced by less obtrusive new offices and dwellings.

But for me what was startling about this photo and its companion photos that I took that day is how few of them there were.  In those far off times of limited SD card storage, the photos were far smaller, about a tenth of the size of the photos I take now.  And, on that journey in the Wheel, no less, a trip that would now see me hoovering up views of London near and far, guess how many photos there are, in the relevant directory.  Thirty nine.  Thirty nine!!!

London has indeed changed, quite a bit.  But digital photography has been transformed.

Also of interest is that among those few photos are photos of strangers, who were obviously happy to pose.  As were their children.  Not long after then, photos of other people’s children pretty much vanish from my archives.

Tuesday December 27 2016

The Londonist logo looks like this:

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But under this logo, here, is an illustrated piece about how that logo might have looked rather different.  London, says the piece, might have acquired itself an Eiffel Tower of its own, at Wembley.  Seriously, the various towers that were apparently under consideration include at least two that look remarkably like the Parisian original, despite Eiffel himself not wanting to be involved:

Towards the close of the 19th century, rail magnate Sir Edward Watkin was intent on all manner of ambitious schemes, including a tunnel under the Channel (it’ll never work). He also dreamt of a gigantic tower, to rival the wonder of Paris and draw tourists to his rail network. Gustave Eiffel was himself unsuccessfully approached to design the behemoth, before the commission was eventually opened out to competition. Some of the entries are presented below.

The illustrations that follow are well worth a look.

In this age of primitively simulated 3D reality, superimposed upon dull old reality itself even as you wander about in reality, the day is surely approaching when you can wander around a city and see it not as it is, but as you would prefer it, at any rate as far as more distant buildings are concerned.  It might be rather hard to walk along a street that has been obliterated by a huge skyscraper, or to visit a skyscraper that was never built.  But your preferred view of St Paul’s could be preserved from a distance.  Or, you could insert a London Eiffel Tower, and see how you like that.

Sunday December 25 2016

The idea was that, all alone in my snuggery, I would do lots of tidying up.  I have done some, but mostly I have been reading Anthony Beevor’s book, misleadingly entitled ”D-Day”, and unmisleadingly subtitled “The Battle for Normandy”.  For Beevor’s story goes from the early agonising about whether (because of the weather), and if so exactly when, the landings would be launched, right up until the German catastrophe that was the Falaise Pocket.  Then as now, despite much behind the scenes agonising, the short-term weather forecaster got it spot on, despite having far less to go on than his equivalents have now.

There’s nothing like the misfortunes of others to cheer you up.  Which is a terrible thing to say and I wouldn’t say it if there was any chance that my bad attitude was able to reach back into the past and make the sufferings of those soldiers, and all those French people caught up in the fighting, even worse.  But it won’t do that.  And anyway, what I mean is, I am really just acknowledging how much worse things were for that generation than they have been for mine.

And then, come Christmas time, there was the Battle of the Bulge for all the participants in this book to put up with, if they’d not already been killed, or injured and stretchered off.

I haven’t been reading this book solidly, in its correct order.  I have been dipping into it, reading about this or that episode, pretty much at random.  Today I was reading about how Brittany was liberated, which until now I knew very little about.  It helps a lot having been to all the towns and cities that get a mention.

Earlier, I read about what those Hawker Typhoons did, known to me until now only as an oil painting.  What the Typhoons did was destroy a hell of a lot fewer counter-attacking German tanks than they claimed at the time and ever since, but they scared the hell out of the German tank guys, which was almost as effective.  The counter-attack was duly snuffed out.

And when that book has finished entertaining me, I have another book, full of more evidence concerning how nice my life has been, this time about something that happened a year earlier.  Kursk.

Monday December 12 2016

As mentioned in earlier postings, I did a trawl through my photo-archives, looking for the earliest evidence I could find of people taking photos with their phones.  Here are the earliest photos I found of this characteristically C21 phenomenon.  The first one dates from April 4th 2006, and the rest were photoed between then and the end of 2006.  They are shown below in chronological order.

I was then, and have been in this posting, much more relaxed about showing the faces of strangers than I normally am here.  Now, I try not to even photo people’s faces, and when I do, I don’t post them on the blog.  But I’m hoping that ten years is the passing of enough time for this not to be a problem.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that the first person I saw doing this was a young girl, just pre-teen.  That demographic being famous early adopters of the things it likes to adopt.

Click and enjoy.  But, be warned that these pictures are necessarily of rather variable quality.  Picture quality is not the point here.  The point is what is going on, and when it was going on:

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It also says something that I often found it quite hard to work out whether what I was looking at was a phone or just a camera, and in about one or maybe two cases here, I may have got that wrong, although I don’t believe so.  But actually, one of the best things about a smartphone is that, because you can use them for so many different things, it is often hard to tell which of those things you are doing at any particular moment.

This is a big, big fact about citizen digital photography.  You often can’t tell, merely by looking at it, whether it is happening or not.

The other day I was at Tate Modern, at an exhibition where, it turned out, photography was forbidden.  I saw people very obviously taking photos, and being told to stop.  I myself took a few photos, and was told to stop.

And I saw others doing what I think was taking photos, and if so, was taking photos in a way that observers couldn’t be sure about, probably deliberately, and I didn’t see them being told to stop.  Photography is not like smoking.  You can’t just see it, and stop it.  Not all of it.  And that is partly because of smartphones.  And of course other cameras are so smart that you can’t see them at all.

Saturday December 10 2016

Yes, The Railwa.  I had continued my odyssey from Seven Sisters on the regular railway, to White Hart Lane Station.  And from the platform, and then when I got outside, this was what I saw.  The Railwa:

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As you can see from the picture on the right, The Railwa used to be The Railway Tavern.

The y Tavern bit has disappeared because this is one of the many, many British pubs that has recently been shut down.

The other night they had a telly show about this, but it seems that it’s not all doom.  Pubs are being shut by Big Booze, and often then turned into blocks of posh flats, which are more lucrative.  But, some of the pubs are being saved, and taken over by The Community.  Accompanying this is the rise of “craft beer” (I at first misheard this as “crap beer"), which seems to be a mixture of regular beer and fruit juice, and as such, sounds right up my street.  When it comes to drink, I am a girl.  My alcoholic drink, on those rarish times when I am in a pub, is: lager and lime.  So it’s all going my way, apart from if I go to one of these new pubs and find it full of The Community.

To be a bit more serious, what I think I see happening here is that the old Working Class, the sort that used to smoke, and watch football teams while standing up and wearing cloth caps is ceasing to exist and what remains of it is being kicked out of the pubs by the new Working Class, the sort that doesn’t smoke, and designs websites and manages brands and works in call centres and which spent this weekend at the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern.  The fate of the Railwa is what happens when an industry goes through a transformation of this sort.  Many of the old institutions collapse and get trashed, like the Railwa, by the look of it.  Others get transformed in accordance with the new dispensation, as perhaps the Railwa will be.

Friday December 09 2016

Alice Robb writes about the strange relationship between humans and cats:

When a stray cat wandered onto the tracks of a midtown 7 train last month, the MTA halted the entire subway line until the animal was out of harm’s way. At the same time, the U.S. government euthanizes millions of stray cats each year. They’re a disaster for the environment: One conservancy organization has called cats the “ecological axis of evil.” ...

There was no single, obvious reason for cats to have been domesticated, says Robb, like meat, or milk, or fur.  They are famously unbiddable.  And they can be very nasty to us.  So, how did it happen?

As I talked to scientists, it dawned on me that we weren’t necessarily the ones who were driving this relationship. House cats sidled up to our first settlements 10,000 years ago, because of big changes we started making to the environment. All of these animals crept into our settlement and were eating our trash - animals like badgers and foxes, in addition to small wildcats. They got into this new niche and exploited it.

So how did they trick us into feeding them and taking care of them?
For a long time, it was probably just an accident. But there are reasons that cats made the transition, but we don’t have badgers or foxes as pets today. One reason is that cats have a set of physical features that, for completely accidental reasons, remind us of human babies. Cats have big round eyes located right in the middle of their faces, because they’re ambush predators and need good binocular vision. They have little noses, because they don’t hunt by smell. They have round faces because they have short, powerful jaws. This set of features, which is actually just an expression of the way the cat hunts, looks to us like our infants. That gave them a leg up on the competition, and made them an intriguing and charming presence, rather than a straight-up nuisance, like a raccoon.

I always assumed that cats were made welcome by our ancestors because they killed rats and mice, which gobbled up our crops.  But, says Robb, cats often can’t be bothered to kill rats, because of all the garbage humans emit.

There’s plenty of garbage for everybody. Cats and rats have been photographed sharing piles of trash. Why would these animals fight and risk their lives, when they could just comfortably graze together?

As for the suppose health benefits of keeping a cat, these, says Robb, are highly dubious.

It all adds up to a pretty good summary of the cat/person relationship.

Thursday December 08 2016

Here are some photos from the archives, of front pages from a year ago tomorrow:

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It’s interesting how Donald Trump was even then so recognisable from behind, because of that weird hair.

Will anyone try to ban President Trump from visiting Britain, I wonder?  Nobody of any significance, surely.  What Trump was saying then was that radical Islam is a serious problem and that he was going to give it hell.  And what has happened since says that Trump is one clever operator.  Which means that we now live in very interesting times.

I seem to recall thinking, around then, that Trump might win.  But by the time the election came around, I was surprised as anyone that he did.  And I wasn’t the only one.

Wednesday December 07 2016

It always surprises me when people don’t take pictures of events that they themselves organise.  Me included by the way.  I have a friend who kindly takes photos at my events whenever he attends them, because I mostly forget to, and I’m guessing others do too.  This being the kind of obvious but small error that people make when they are stressed.

Which is maybe why this IEA guy, who saw me taking photos at this IEA centenary event in honour of Arthur Seldon, last night, asked me if I could send him a few of my photos.

Here are the seven photos I will be sending him.

The first one sets the scene, but also highlights a problem, which is that these days, at speaker meetings, there is usually a bright screen, while the speaker is - or (as in this case) the speakers are - in something more like darkness:

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On the left there, Martin Anderson.  On the right, Patrick Minford.  Take my word for it.

But I did get a few half decent shots of speakers speaking, or listening to other speakers speaking:

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Top left: Peter Seldon, Arthur’s on.  Top right: Richard Wellings.  Bottom left: Linda Whetstone, speaking from the floor.  Bottom right: Patrick Minford, again.

Finally, my two favourite photos of the night, both of Martin Anderson.  And of his magnificent giant shirt:

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I did attempt some crowd shots, but they didn’t come out at all well.  Shame, because there was quite a crowd.

I also tried photoing the video camera and its operator.  That also failed to come out right, but at least there was a video camera present, so presumably those who did not attend will be able eventually to listen in on what was actually quite an upbeat event.

You know you are getting old when instead of just attending funerals of people whom you knew, you attend celebrations of people who were born one hundred years ago, whom you also knew.

More about Seldon and his colossal impact here.  There is also a photo of him there.  Shame there wasn’t a photo of him on that big screen.

Monday December 05 2016

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

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

Here it is:

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

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

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

So: trees.  I was hoping for actual sisters.

Friday November 25 2016

Memo to self.  Whenever you see a clock, photo it.  Why?  Because that will ensure that you actually know what time all those photos that day were taken, what real clocks moving back and forth but my camera’s clock: not.  I usually get the date right.  The time, often not.

One day, when a clutch of my photos taken several years ago are crucial to establishing or destroying an alibi for a criminal suspect, knowing the exact time could turn out to be very important.

It helps that I like clocks and tend to photo them anyway.  Now I will try to make a habit of it.

This clock …:

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… is to be found at the top of a rather intriguing building in nearby Victoria, now the National Audit Office, but which used to be an airline terminal.

I photoed this clock from the roof of my home, on the same day I took these photos.