Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Rob Fisher on Round headlights equals an old car
Rob Fisher on ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
6000 on Nine reflections
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Brian Micklethwait on The River Thames carpet
Simon Gibbs on The River Thames carpet
Alan Little on The localness of London's weather
Michael Jennings on Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
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- Out from under the weather
- Smaller Old Thing in front of Big New Things
- A Sunday ramble
- ASI Boat Trip 8: Bridges
- Cat news
- Quota selfie from 2006
- ASI Boat Trip 7: Other photographers
- Nine reflections
- The localness of London’s weather
- Round headlights equals an old car
- The River Thames carpet
- Cats … on scaffolding … with shadows …
- Sacred architecture and profane roof clutter - a speculation
- ASI Boat Trip 6: Crowd scenes
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Category archive: History
Here is a picture, taken from Lambeth Bridge in March of this year:
This is basically one of those “I just like it” pictures, that I came upon last night when trawling through the archives, although I liked it a lot more after a touch of rotation had been applied. I particularly like the contribution of those leafless trees.
The red brick tower that dominates this scene is something to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, but further googling made me none the wiser about its exact purpose or provenance. It was, it seems built in 1865. Other than that, I could learn little.
But googling did cause me to learn about this other tower, which used to be a hospital water tower and has now been converted into a home.
This sort of modernistic box-mongering can be very dull, when that’s all there is. But put it next to some more ornate Victoriana, and both styles often look the better for it.
That is also part of the pleasure I get from the above photo. Even if ancient and modern buildings are not next to each other for real, they can put them next to each other, with a camera.
You don’t see many of these these days:
I’m talking about round headlights on cars. About ten years ago, and I have photos that notice the moment, car headlights, having been round for about three quarters of a century, went absolutely mental, with silver moldings and weird shapes of all kinds. It’s been like that ever since. Now, a car with round headlights is an old car.
Like this one, the car with the above headlight:
It appears to be one of these, or if not then something very like it. I photoed this car this afternoon.
A while ago, I started photo-collecting round headlights, and the cars that sport them. There may accordingly, although I promise nothing, be a huge spread of them here, any month, or year, or decade, now.
Some new cars these days have pretend round headlights, such as the new German Mini. But they are only pretend round. Look carefully, and they are not properly round, like the one above.
I have just done a comment at Samizdata, on this (about the recently concluded football World Cup in which England did its usual rather badly (although it did at least get there)), saying this:
I agree with the first comment, about how, if individualism explains this, England (England perhaps more than Britain) ought to be winning tennis, golf, swimming etc., routinely.
I think much depends on what a country (to use collective shorthand) just considers important, for several years rather than just for a few weeks. Like it or hate it (personally I hate it) Britain, definitely including England, put in a mighty effort (both individual and collective) to make a success (but damn the cost) of the 2012 Olympics, both as an event and by winning a ton of medals.
But from what I hear from football fans, English football takes winning the Premier League, and then doing well in European club competition, more seriously than doing well in the World Cup. The feeling I get is that the winning England footballer is the one who makes the most money throughout his career. A former Spurs manager recently talked about how some of his players would fake injury, and wanted his help to do this, to avoid being picked for England. That would knacker them to no personal career purpose.
Plus, there is this huge split between regular English fans who support their clubs week in week out, and people like me who watch the World Cup but not a lot else. That Germany Brazil game was the most memorable football game in years, for me. For a proper fan, it would be some obscure promotion battle or an amazing away draw against a European club that got their team to the last sixteen of the Champions League, or whatever. For a Man U supporter it would be that remarkable last ditch win against Bayern in the Champions League final.
Sadly, I think politicians have a big influence on this. The kind of power and money they command doesn’t make successful countries out here in the real world (Brazil, Argentina, etc.), quite the reverse. But it can make national sporting effort more successful, if by that you mean more medals and trophies. Angela Merkel is a big fan of her now triumphant football team. I wonder what else she and Germany’s other politicians did to support them, other than her showing up for lots more of their games than she had to.
Sport. War by other means. Discuss.
That last point is one I definitely want to write about more in the nearish future. How A-bombs and H-bombs have made all out war between Great Powers impossible, and caused an unprecedented outbreak of peace between Great Powers, and thus caused national rivalry to express itself in sport rather than war. That kind of thing.
Michael J, frequent contributor to this blog (he contributed yesterday’s photo, for instance), has a piece up today at Samzidata concerning a mysterious tank that he photoed in Southwark. It’s an old T-34 apparently. Michael calls it “a Soviet tank”, but it might make more sense to call it “the Soviet tank”, for this was one of the decisive weapons of World War 2.
Here is another tank:
This is to be seen outside the “Firepower Museum”, which is next to the Woolwich Arsenal. According to one of the contributors here, this is “an Iraqi 2SC Akatsiya”, but another commenter says its a “2S3 152mm spg”, spg meaning self-propelled gun, aka tank. Sounds like a type of computer file. Or then again it could be the Special Patrol Group.
Here is something else you can see across the road from the tank, in the form of some armour plating that has been rather severely tested:
But best of all, I think, is the nearby clutch of Metal Men.
I go to Lower Marsh because second hand CD shop Gramex is there. (Gramex now has a new website.) But Lower Marsh also seems to be a place where I regularly espy interesting vehicles.
And then, the day before yesterday, there was this “Vespa GS” (I have another less nice photo which shows that clearly written on the front):
Even I could tell it was some kind of classic, and so it proved.
It’s the white bits on the tires that really makes my nostalgia kick in. All the coolest cars and bikes had white walled tires when I was a kid.
I went on a photo-expedition to Erith, last Tuesday. Well, strictly speaking, from Erith. What I did was go to Erith by train, and then walk back along the south side of the river, to Woolwich.
I took about a thousand photos, truly about a thousand, of which the one below was one of the first. My journey to Erith by train started at London Bridge Station, and this photo was taken at that station, while I awaited my train to Erith.
This guy has the full story of this strange circumstance.
First off, he notes, it’s not a V2. It’s a sixties vintage Atlas booster. So, what gives? Someone, he pointed out, is looking after this object, so it must be there for a reason. But, what reason?
A commenter explains:
It’s advertising the Britain at War experience below London Bridge Station.
And all is explained. That link no longer works, on account of the Britain at War Experience having now been closed down, on account of the redevelopment around London Bridge Station. But advertising the Britain at War Experience is how it got to be there.
Maybe the Not-V2 will soon start to look at bit tatty. It may even vanish altogether. All the more reason to photo it now.
About every other day Google sends me news of Emmanuel Todd, news in French. Sometimes it is news of him talking on video, in French. I can just about order a croissant in a French shop, but that’s as far as my French goes.
So, imagine my delight on learning about this video, of Emmanuel Todd talking … in English!
What he is saying is that the different family systems of Europe mean that the different nations of Europe are politically incompatible, and accordingly that the Euro is doomed. Worth a watch, if that kind of thing interests you. In particular, the way that the Euro is putting Germany in charge of France is not at all what the French elite had in mind, and this means that sooner or later the French will have to dump the Euro. But first, their elite has to explain why it made this hideous blunder in the first place. Because dumping the Euro would mean admitting they should never have done it in the first place.
Tim Evans recently gave a talk to the End of the World Club (silly name, great talks) about politics, David Cameron’s politics in particular. He said that Cameron has no problem with Britain leaving the EU, while he remains Prime Minister. Sure enough, about two days later, an email from Tim arrives, complete with the link, saying: And so it starts ...
I know what you’re thinking. This is a tricycle:
That’s not a tricycle.
This is a tricycle:
Photoed by me in an alleyway off Lower Marsh, this afternoon.
These are also tricycles
Blog and learn.
It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.
As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.
Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.
Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.
The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.
What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...
Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat? It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box? Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things. What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead. So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of. It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself. No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.
But the box bit of the metaphor works okay. The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.
However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:
The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.
In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to. They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is. Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition. All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do. Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.
If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos. Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above). The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole. No, as current events are now proving. A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means. Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.
What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen. Hannan clearly hopes so. So do I.
Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.
If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true. Hannan feels the same.
If you’ve not been there before, I recommend visiting Handpicked London. I’ve just been browsing through it, and found my way from it to Photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed are found in a skip, from December 2011, which I do not remember noticing at the time. (The first two of those are Facebook links, and maybe they don’t last. You have to register, is what the second one just said.)
These photographs of Tower Bridge being constructed have been unveiled after a stash of hundred-year-old photos were found in a skip. The 50 sepia pictures, the most recent of which date back to 1892, reveal in incredible detail the ingenuity behind one of the capital’s most popular tourist destinations.
Hybrid modernism. Modern in its manner of creation. Ancient in appearance. An architectural style with a lot of mileage in it.
LATER: More stuff from me about towers here.
The majority of postings at Dezeen are of very little interest to me, but occasionally something of extreme interest to me appears there.
My guess is that what the book is describing is a part of the story of how architects have for some time now been making more of an effort to please the wider public with their big set-piece buildings then was the case with the first full-scale assault upon the world by the Modern Movement in Architecture, following the evolution of the architectural modernity in America around 1900, and following all the earlier skirmishes there had been before WW2. (The Modern Movement, you might say, was evolved architectural modernity, but militarised and uglified.) Well, the conquered population fought back, and now architects are far more ready to make buildings that look cool and even beautiful, to mere punters, as opposed merely to making buildings that seem “important” to other architects. Big new Things have to look distinctive rather than anonymous, different rather than the same old same old, if people are to become fond of them. (London’s Gherkin would not have been nearly so well liked if there had already been another identical shaped building elsewhere.) Having a Big Thing shaped like a big capital letter is one way to accomplish such distinctiveness.
On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t want your own little suburban house to be shaped like a letter of the alphabet, instead of like all the other houses in the road. But that’s because houses are for living in, not to be “iconic”.
The disdain with which old school modernist architecture critics feel towards the the new Wow! style of architecture is well captured in this quote, from Charles Jencks:
“Ninety-five percent of iconic buildings are failures, because we lack an iconography and an iconology, and the artistic conviction to carry metaphors through,” says architectural theorist Charles Jencks in another of the interviews.
When Jencks says “failures”, you just know that what he means is that he doesn’t like them. I don’t think he is talking box office success here, the sort based on people generally liking whatever it is. Or, the horror the horror ... the mere clients actually getting something that they like! But, I haven’t read this book yet, and what “you just know” could be wrong.
Another point worth making is that any big building that actually gets built is a very big success right there. “Iconography” is as much about getting the Big Thing built, as it is about it looking good when it is built. Discuss.
Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.
Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.
Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?
According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?
He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.
In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.
Indeed. The picture on the left is the only one I managed at Richard Carey’s talk about the Levellers last Thursday at the Rose and Crown. I forgot my proper camera, and so took a few shots with my mobile, of which only one was the slightest use. And then when I got home, I could not persuade my mobile to transfer its picture to my regular computer.
The problem is, I use this process too infrequently. The simple truth about computer processes, always and everywhere, is that a computer process you use regularly is easy, while a computer process you use only very occasionally is extremely difficult. Ignore all prattle about “computer friendliness”. Either you know it, in which case all is simplicity. Or you don’t in which case your chances of success plummet towards impossibility. Repeat business is all. And I use my mobile phone so rarely to take photos that I do not regularly transfer photos from it to my regular computer, and that causes this process to be impossible. I looked at various videos claiming to answer this question. All were useless. My phone did not do any of the things they said it would do when I pressed the buttons they told me to press. Why not? Who can say?
So instead, I simply photographed my mobile phone with the picture on it (getting it simply to display the picture was itself very difficult), and that is the picture you see below, on the left. On the right is a picture of a mug, which I found while searching for a better version of the picture of John Lilburne than what you see in my picture of Richard Carey’s T-shirt:
Richard’s talk was outstanding, and I am told that the video of it will be available very soon.
By the way, I tried to put a thin black line all around the mug picture, but I very seldom do this and couldn’t make that work either.
The trick for doing photography entertainingly is to acquire more and more specialisms, more and more things you like to photo a lot. And one of my favourite specialisms is: interesting vehicles. Often old ones, like, e.g., this one.
Vehicles like this one, which I spotted in the Strand yesterday, while out and about with Goddaughter 2.
What is interesting about it is that it looks like one of those ye olde buses (permanently open back door for instance) that now only does things like weddings and corporate jollifications. I have many photographs, including many, I dare say, of this actual bus, to prove this. Yet here it is, apparently (judging by what it says at the back of it) doing regular bus stuff.
True, it is specialising in famous tourist spots, like St Paul’s and the Tower of London. Even so, odd. If tourists can ride about in such a bus, why can’t regular Londoners?
The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia. Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.
Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.
On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.
This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.
My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.
What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.
Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.
However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.
And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.
And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.
Excellent. And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice. Not that the short notice will affect its quality. If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.
I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten. But that’s only a guess.