Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Alastair on Wembley Arch lighting contrast
Rob Fisher on What does Thames "RIB" Experience mean?
Heathrow Transfers on Miguel aligns his message with his van
Brian Micklethwait on So shiny it looks fake
Patrick Crozier on So shiny it looks fake
Patrick Crozier on So shiny it looks fake
Natalie Solent on Wooden Citroens and black baby dolls
Brian Micklethwait on Miguel aligns his message with his van
Natalie Solent on Miguel aligns his message with his van
Brian Micklethwait on Tate Modern is now fighting with its neighbours about privacy
Most recent entries
- Batman consults his smartphone
- The art of taxi advertising
- Drones are not toys
- Snake on a car
- A particularly good panoramic view of central London
- Coastline politics at Samizdata
- Wembley Arch lighting contrast
- A blown up airplane and a dodgy internet connection
- Rereading a Rebus
- Rod Green on Boys and Men at the time of Magna Carta
- More birds on a TV aerial
- Van – grey but very interesting
- Union Jacks having fun
- Another TV aerial
- Cruise plays along
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Category archive: History
Friday was the day here for cats, but now I have widened it to all kinds of creatures, cats included.
This week, a snake! On a vintage car!
I took these pictures in the square next to Quimper Cathedral, in the summer of 2008:
The snake is most clearly to be seen in pictures 1.2, 2.1, 2.2 and 3.3. I think it must be some sort of air intake, for the engine, or for something. But what do I know?
Berliet seems to be an enterprise that makes lorries these days. But if you scroll down through the images you get when you type “berliet” into google images, you start to see vintage cars, in among the more recent lorries.
If you scroll down at this site, you get to something that looks like the above vehicle. And if it is the same vehicle, or something very similar, then it is a 1907 Berliet C2 Double-Phaeton, or something very similar.
There’s a number plate on the front of my Berliet, which says: 1909 VS 29. I thought that might be a clue, rather than, you know, a number plate, so I tried “Berliet 1909 VS 29” with google images, and guess what I found. A Berliet “Double Phaeton” at a car museum in Malaga.
I even found a photo of the car in question, with a ludicrously long internet address attached to it, which I now offer you, in the hope that it works
Well, the link does seem to work, but if it doesn’t, take my word for it. Although this is not the same car as my one above, it is very similar. So similar that the car in the Andalusian museum also has, just like my car has, attached to its side, with its mouth wide open, sucking in air, … a snake. Weird.
Earlier today I stuck up a biggish piece at Samizdata entitled Thoughts on the politics of coastlines, about the age-old conflict between land powers and sea powers.
That’s the nearest thing I could quickly find in my photo-archives to a relevant picture, of a ship near London Gateway, which I paid several visits to, way back in 2013. That’s as close as I’ve been to a British coast any time recently.
Yesterday I again went to the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral, but the early onset of the dark surprised me, and the light (which I depend on rather a lot) was too dark and too horizontal and shady for very good results. But I still like these two shots, of the new Wembley Arch, testing my zoom lens to its outer limits:
I particularly like the version on the left, with that little bit of sun slashing through a gap in the clouds, off to the left as we look. I include the one on the right because of the contrast. In itself, it would not really have deserved a showing. For once, a crane intrudes, in the left hand picture, and I am not happy.
It occurs to me that when people started taking photos like this, just as blurry but in black and white, maybe it got the painters thinking. They could both imitate the blurriness, but also do it in colour, as the photographers for a long time couldn’t. Et voilà. Impressionism.
What the tower on the left is, I do not know.
When you talk about an airplane being blown up, that usually means it has been exploded, destroyed, incinerated. This airplane, however, has been blown up, yet it looks like this:
Details at 6k. This posting here is basically a celebration, of the fact that I am now able to get to 6k, copy pictures from 6k, etc.
For the last few days, right up until nearly now, my computer was unable or unwilling to access 6k. Everything else: okay, but rather clunky. 6K: not. I checked if this was 6k’s fault by trying to access 6k via my mobile, and that worked. Ergo, it was me. Strange, and rather frustrating, because I like 6k. And now, for some equally bizarre reason, my computer did some sort of internet connection hiccup involving that thing where it says something about a testing process and says you have to check in again, with some password you never knew you had which you can actually ignore by just opening a new window, and once I reopened a new window, everything was suddenly back working properly. And: 6k returned.
Dodgy connection? Well, maybe, but I hadn’t touched any of the connections. Why did this happen? Don’t know. And: don’t care, unless it happens again. Then: it did happen again. Fiddled about with connections. TURNED COMPUTER OFF AND TURNED COMPUTER ON AGAIN. Seems now to work. Weird.
Also weird is what the Russians are about to be getting up to. (The airplane above is Russian.) Some things never change. The Russians are always doing one of two things: pretending to be weaker than they are, or pretending to be stronger than they are. They seem to be in a stronger than they are phase just now.
Life is full of mysteries. More so, as you get older.
I’ve already given you Rod Green’s Dangereuse. Here’s another, longer bit from his book about Magna Carta, a bit which he entitled “Boys and Men” (pp. 61-66) I was especially struck by the part near the end, about people who could pronounce Latin words but who didn’t know what they meant. Sounds horribly familiar:
Not so long ago, it was widely assumed that the concept of “childhood” simply didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. The view was that the kind of life led by a modern child - where good health, play and education experienced as part of a loving family environment is seen as the norm - was in stark contrast to the lives of children 800 years ago, who were treated as a burden to be tolerated until they were old enough to be of some use.
Recent research, however, shows that this may not have been entirely the case. Studies of toys from the period have shown that children were encouraged to play. The toys may have been homemade in many cases, but models of mounted knights made out of metal would have been bought or specially commissioned, showing that some parents cared enough about their children’s play time to lavish gifts on them.
Children do not feature prominently in illustrated manuscripts, paintings or tapestries doing anything more than emulating their parents, but in some cases they can be seen playing games like tag or “king of the castle” and riding on hobby-horses. They were, it seems, encouraged to play and enjoy an active childhood, although their lives were set on a predetermined course at an early age.
In the early thirteenth century, a child surviving the first year of life had a reasonable chance of fighting off disease long enough to acquire the strength needed to survive in the harsh and unhygienic medieval world. In fact, 25 per cent of those born to wealthy parents and up to 50 per cent of those born to the poor did not. A whole host of infectious
diseases for which we now have myriad names would then simply have been classed as “fever” or “food poisoning”. Life expectancy was only around 30 years, although anyone from the ruling classes who made it, strong and healthy, to the age of 21, might well have had another 40 years to look forward to. In the fourteenth century, the Black Death was to reduce life expectancy dramatically.
In the days of King John, however, a fit young boy born into a noble family could expect to live in his parents’ grand house or castle until he was about seven years old. He would then be sent off to live in another castle, most likely in the house of a nobleman a rung or two up the feudal ladder from his own parents, perhaps even in one of the king’s
Here he would serve first as a page, running errands and generally waiting on the lords and ladies of the household. However, he would also learn how a large house functioned and how people interacted with one another, as well as learning about customs and proper manners. He might also be taught how to read and understand Latin and, if it were not already his native tongue, the version of French spoken by the Norman nobility.
A young boy would also learn how to ride and, if he showed promise, he might, when he was around 14 years old, become apprenticed to a knight as a squire. They had to train hard to learn the art of combat, which included lifting heavy stones to build muscle, throwing the javelin, fighting with a quarterstaff, archery, wrestling, acrobatics and sword fighting. Swordsmanship was taught using a blunted sword and a buckler, a small shield the size of a pot lid. This trained the would-be knight how to parry sword thrusts and how to use his shield as an offensive weapon without the novice having to start off with a full-sized, cumbersome shield. Similarly, the blunted sword was used against heavily padded protective layers, although the dull blade could still inflict painful wounds.
The squire would learn how to clean and prepare the knight’s armour and weapons, although major repairs had to be undertaken by a blacksmith or armourer. He would also need to help his knight put on his armour, which meant more than simply helping him to dress - the various elements of the heavy steel all had to be strapped into place in the correct sequence to make sure that they overlapped and allowed for movement in the right way.
This, of course, meant that the squire went with his knight to compete in tournaments. He would eventually get the chance to compete in his own right, even before he became a knight, as there were special contests organized solely for squires.
Whether a squire lived in his knight’s house, or whether he lived in a baron’s castle where landless knights also lived as part of the baron’s permanent military force, he would have regular chores to perform, which would include acting as a servant when his masters sat down to eat. Squires were expected, for example, to learn the correct way to carve meat at the table.
The squire’s apprenticeship would last until he was around 21 years of age, at which point he might expect to be knighted himself. However, he might want to avoid that happening - a squire could be made a knight either by his local lord or by the king, but it wasn’t an honour that everyone could afford. The squire’s family, whom he may have visited only a couple of times a year since he was sent away as a seven-year-old, would have to pay for the costly armour, weapons and warhorse that a knight required, as well as funding any forays he might make to tournaments far and wide. Being a knight could be prohibitively expensive, especially if a second, third or fourth son, who might not inherit any part of his father’s estate when he died (the bulk of property often being bequeathed to the first-born).
Around the beginning of the thirteenth century, there was a growing “middle class” of merchants, tradesmen and professionals, particularly in the new cities and busy ports. Trade with continental Europe had expanded enormously since the Norman Conquest, although Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs are known to have traded extensively with partners as far away as Russia. Clauses 41 and 42 of Magna Carta make special mention of such merchants.
The son of a merchant would live an entirely different life from that of a boy born into the nobility. From a very young age, he would learn about the family business, in order to play a full part as soon as he was old enough. A boy might also become apprenticed to another merchant or tradesman, a privilege for which his family would have to pay, and be sent away from home to live with his new master.
Merchants, especially those dealing in foreign trade, had to be able to speak and read Latin, which was the international language of commerce, the legal profession and the Church. The sons of the middle classes learned Latin either through private tuition or at one of the new schools that were beginning to appear.
Merchants donated money to set up schools in the most important trading towns and boys would be sent to school to learn arithmetic and Latin grammar, the institutions becoming known as grammar schools. The schools were allied to a particular trade, making them private schools, although fee-paying schools would later be established that were open to anyone who could pay, such establishments being termed “public” schools.
There would have been few if any books in schools. These were hugely expensive, hand-written items - the first printed books didn’t begin appearing until the mid-fifteenth century. Boys learned their lessons verbally, repeating their Latin phrases time and time again, and earning themselves a beating if they got anything wrong.
Some might learn mathematics or become proficient in the use of an abacus, but few would continue their formal education beyond a basic level or contemplate attending one of the new universities.
As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford University had been growing in stature since the latter part of the eleventh century and the colleges of Cambridge University can trace their history back to around the same time.
Peasants, still by far and away the largest portion of the population, could not afford to send their sons to school. A peasant boy was expected to do chores as soon as he was old enough to learn how to feed chickens or help to herd livestock. When he was strong enough, he would help with the back-breaking work in the fields and perhaps spend some time working in the local landowner’s house or castle, if such was required by the terms of his family’s tenure.
The Church played a major role in everyone’s lives and even the most lowly peasants attended church on a regular basis. However, all services were conducted in Latin, so most people couldn’t understand what was being said - sometimes not even the priest. Despite being the most educated man in the village, while the priest might be able to pronounce written Latin, the chances are he did not understand it. For a lucky few, a well-educated priest might teach boys how to read, but even as late as the fourteenth century it has been estimated that 8 out of 10 adults in England were unable even to spell their own names.
Recently I acquired, in the remainder shop in Lower Marsh (in the basement beneath which Gramex now operates), a copy of a little book by Rod Green called Magna Carta and All That. This is now going for £0.01 on Amazon, and is well worth £2.81.
It takes the form not of a few longish chapters, but rather of lots of easily digestible chunks of verbiage, many of them biographical, and typically concerning persons I had never heard of.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of Henry II, and more to the point from the Magna Carta point of view, mother of King John, I have most definitely heard of. (She was played by Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter.) This (p. 22) is what Rod Green says about Eleanor’s immediate antecedents, and in particular about Eleanor’s grandmother:
Born in 1122, in the Duchy of Aquitaine, Eleanor was brought up on spellbinding tales of her family’s adventures, especially those of her grandfather, William IX of Aquitaine. William, a big man with a fiery temper, was a warrior and a renowned poet who loved to scandalize his audiences. He was never one to let tradition, custom or even the law stand in his way. He divorced his first wife, Ermengarde, and married again, his second wife, Philippa, giving him seven children before he fell in love with Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, wife of the Viscount of Chatellerault.
Dangereuse, it seems, had not earned her risky name lightly and was so called because of her beguiling, seductive manner. She appears to have been a willing participant when William decided to kidnap her while visiting the viscount. He spirited Dangereuse off to his palace in Poitiers and installed her in the tower which was the living quarters of his immediate family. This kind of abduction wasn’t unheard of among the nobility in medieval Europe - however, that didn’t mean that William’s wife was best pleased when she returned from a visit to her family in Toulouse to find another woman in her home. Eventually, she left William; later, she was instrumental in getting the pope to excommunicate both William and Dangereuse from the Church.
William, however, was a very rich and powerful man and eventually persuaded the pope to allow him back into the Church. Aenor, Dangereuse’s daughter from her previous marriage ultimately married William’s son, also called William, and it was from this union that Eleanor of Aquitaine came into the world.
Like I say, I long ago heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but never, until now, of Dangereuse. She is all over the internet. I have no idea if any of these many pictures of Dangereuse are in any way genuine.
Although I promise rien, expect more bits here from this most entertaining book.
I took this photo from the roof of my block of flats this morning, of a brick tower, out beyond Victoria, with a rather startled expression on its face:
What is that?
We now live in a time when questions like that have pretty much immediate answers, and I went looking.
And I was reminded that the internet can be wrong as well as right about things, even about things which ought not to be a matter of opinion. Which I already knew, but it’s interesting to get caught up in the wrongness, from time to time.
A shot tower is a tower designed for the production of shot balls by freefall of molten lead, which is then caught in a water basin. The shot is used for projectiles in firearms.
But more confident and more numerous internet places persuade me that this is actually a pumping station tower. Or rather, it was.
Apparently, over there in Chelsea, there used to be a canal, the Grosvenor Canal. Bits of it are still there, but most bits, it would seem, not.
A remaining waterworks building, known as the Western Pumping Station still remains beside the site of the canal and its chimney is something of a landmark in the area. However, the chimney now acts as a ventilation shaft for sewers rather than its original purpose of being the chimney for boilers.
So, never a shot tower. Once a pumping station tower. Now a ventilation chimney.
Is there another such in London?:
Well, probably yes, quite a few such. But, there is definitely that one. It’s the top of the restored guess version of the Globe Theatre.
As seen, of course, from the top of the Tate Modern Extension. It’s right next to Tate Modern (the thing on the left of the picture), and you need to get right to the back of the viewing gallery, or you don’t see it.
I reckon it’s already starting to look a bit threadbare.
I like this photo, of Daniel Hannan, at the top of a Guardian piece about him, and about how he was and is “The man who brought you Brexit”:
I like this photo because it is exactly the sort of photo that I try to take of photoers myself. A smartphone with interesting graphics, held over the eyes of the photoer (which of course often happens) to preserve anonymity. Or it would if there were no other photos of Hannan in the world and no article underneath the photo, telling the world all about him.
While browsing through my archives recently, I came across those pictures I took of Brexiteer Kenny, doing his rehash of a Hannan piece in Trafalgar Square, with white chalk. And what I discovered was that, to revise that Abba song, I never thought that we could win. The pictures brought back the feeling I had when I took them, which was: gallant failure. Brave effort. Well done mate, going down fighting. But, we won’t win.
I told myself that we might win, but mostly what I thought was that although the majority for Remain had slimmed down a bit over the years, it was still there.
As for the Brexit arguments now (quick versus careful), I am reading this guy. He is for careful. Every post he does says (a) that he is the cleverest person in the world and that everyone else is at best not so clever, and at worst stupid stupid stupid; and (b) something worthwhile, carefully and persuasively explicated.
I never thought that we could win, but just to be clear: there’s no regret.
Earlier, in 2014, I posting another bit from a Matt Ridley book, this time from The Rational Optimist. I entitled that posting Matt Ridley on how technology leads science and how that means that the state need not fund science.
Here is another Matt Ridley book bit, on this same subject, of how technology leads science. And it is also from The Evolution of Everything (pp. 135-137):
Technology comes from technology far more often than from science. And science comes from technology too. Of course, science may from time to time return the favour to technology. Biotechnology would not have been possible without the science of molecular biology, for example. But the Baconian model with its one-way flow from science to technology, from philosophy to practice, is nonsense. There’s a much stronger flow the other way: new technologies give academics things to study.
An example: in recent years it has become fashionable to argue that the hydraulic fracturing technology that made the shale-gas revolution possible originated in government-sponsored research, and was handed on a plate to industry. A report by California’s Breakthrough Institute noted that microseismic imaging was developed by the federal Sandia National Laboratory, and ‘proved absolutely essential for drillers to navigate and site their boreholes’, which led Nick Steinsberger, an engineer at Mitchell Energy, to develop the technique called ‘slickwater fracking’.
To find out if this was true, I spoke to one of hydraulic fracturing’s principal pioneers, Chris Wright, whose company Pinnacle Technologies reinvented fracking in the late 1990s in a way that unlocked the vast gas resources in the Barnett shale, in and around Forth Worth, Texas. Utilised by George Mitchell, who was pursuing a long and determined obsession with getting the gas to flow out of the Barnett shale to which he had rights, Pinnacle’s recipe - slick water rather than thick gel, under just the right pressure and with sand to prop open the fractures through multi-stage fracturing - proved revolutionary. It was seeing a presentation by Wright that persuaded Mitchell’s Steinsberger to try slickwater fracking. But where did Pinnacle get the idea? Wright had hired Norm Wapinski from Sandia, a federal laboratory. But who had funded Wapinksi to work on the project at Sandia? The Gas Research Institute, an entirely privately funded gas-industry research coalition, whose money came from a voluntary levy on interstate gas pipelines. So the only federal involvement was to provide a space in which to work. As Wright comments: ‘If I had not hired Norm from Sandia there would have been no government involvement.’ This was just the start. Fracking still took many years and huge sums of money to bring to fruition as a workable technology. Most of that was done by industry. Government laboratories beat a path to Wright’s door once he had begun to crack the problem, offering their services and their public money to his efforts to improve fracking still further, and to study just how fractures propagate in rocks a mile beneath the surface. They climbed on the bandwagon, and got some science to do as a result of the technology developed in industry - as they should. But government was not the wellspring.
As Adam Smith, looking around the factories of eighteenth-century Scotland, reported in The Wealth of Nations: ‘a great part of the machines made use in manufactures ... were originally the inventions of common workmen’, and many improvements had been made ‘by the ingenuity of the makers of the machines’. Smith dismissed universities even as a source of advances in philosophy. I am sorry to say this to my friends in academic ivory towers, whose work I greatly value, but if you think your cogitations are the source of most practical innovation, you are badly mistaken.
I’m listening to chitchat on Radio Three about the origins of Radio Three’s previous and original manifestation, the Third Programme.
They’ve just mentioned an article by John Croft called Composition is not research. I quickly found it on the www, and I want to hang on to it.
There are, by and large, two kinds of composers in academia today – those who labour under the delusion that they are doing a kind of ‘research’, and those who recognise the absurdity of this idea, but who continue to supervise PhD students, make funding applications, and document their activities as if it were true. Composing, of course, might on occasion depend on research – how do I make an orchestra sound like a bell? How do I electronically sustain a note from an instrument so that it doesn’t sound mechanical? What is the best way to notate microtones or complex rhythms so that they can be accurately played? But none of these is actually the composition of music. Rameau’s harmonic theory was research, and it surely influenced his music (and music in general), but the Traité de l’harmonie is not a musical composition. The development of the pianoforte involved research and influenced music in profound ways, but it was not composing.
I have not read this essay yet. But the point of this posting is not to say what I think of it, merely to make sure that I do read it.
I have long been interested in the rather misleading idea of musical “progress”. This seems like it will be closely related to that idea. Another related idea: music is not science, and new music does not replace old music. But, I shall see.
The internet is fighting back against … cats!
Cats are colonizers: this is what they do. They have colonized the internet just as they have colonized so many other habitats, always with the help of humans. This is the lesson of Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, a new book by conservation scientist Peter P. Marra and travel writer Chris Santella. From remote islands in the Pacific to the marshes of Galveston Bay, Cat Wars traces the various ways in which felines have infiltrated new landscapes, inevitably sowing death and devastation wherever they go.
Perhaps the most famous case of genocide-by-cat is that of the remote Stephens Island in New Zealand. Before the end of the 19th century, it was home to a unique species: the Stephens Island wren. One of only a few species of flightless songbirds, the wren ran low to the ground, looking more like a mouse than a bird. After a lighthouse was built on the island in 1894, a small human settlement was established; and with humans, invariably, come pets. At some point a pregnant cat, brought over from the mainland, escaped and roamed wild. The island’s wrens, unused to facing such a skillful predator, were no match for the feral cats that spread throughout the island. Within a year, the Stephens Island wren was extinct. It would take another 30 years to eradicate the feral cats.
This is not an isolated incident. Cats have contributed to species decline and habitat reduction in dozens of other cases. Because they’re so cute and beloved, we have little conception of — and little incentive to find out — how much damage cats are doing to our environment. When researcher Scott Loss tallied up the number of animals killed by North American housecats in a single year, the results were absolutely staggering: between 6.3 and 22.3 billion mammals, between 1.3 and 4 billion birds, between 95 and 299 million amphibians, and between 258 and 822 million reptiles.
Most books that get multiple reviews on Amazon get around four stars out of five, on average, because most of the reviews are from admirers and there are just a few from detractors. This book gets a star average of one and a bit.
Recently I came upon another for the collection:
This is a footbridge at the back of the Strand Palace Hotel. I could find nothing about this footbridge on the www, but luckily I had already taken the precaution of asking someone local, just after I had taken my photos. This local was entering an office in the same street with the air of doing this regularly, and who therefore seemed like someone who might know. And he did. What about that bridge? - I asked him.
Yes, he said. That used to be the bridge that conveyed the servants from the Strand Palace Hotel, on the left in the above photo, to the servants quarters, which is what the dwellings on the right in my photo, behind the scaffolding, used to be. These servants quarters had, quite a while back, been turned into mere quarters, for regular people to live in. So, the bridge then got blocked off at the right hand end as we here look at it. But, the bridge continued to be used by the Strand Palace Hotel as an elongated cupboard. These old servants quarters are now being turned into luxury flats, which is why the scaffolding. But the bridge stays.
That the original purpose of the bridge was to convey servants, as opposed to people, is presumably why the bridge has no windows. Wouldn’t want to see servants going to and fro, would we. Fair dos, actually. A hotel of this sort – this one being just across the Strand from the Savoy - is a lot like a theatre, and the point of a theatre is not to see all the backstage staff wandering hither and thither. So, I do get it. And I doubt the servants minded that there were no windows. I bet they minded lots of other things, but not that.
I will now expand on the matter of the exact location of this obscure footbridge. As you can see from the square to the right, it is in Exeter Street, London WC2. I took other photos of this Exeter Street street sign, because I have a rule about photoing information about interesting things that I photo, as well as photoing the interesting thing itself, which is that I do. Sometimes, as on the day I took this photo, I even follow this rule. But I thought I’d try extricating a detail from the above photo, and see how I did. I blew the original up to maximum size, and sliced out a rectangle, tall and thin, with the street name in it. I then expanded (see the first sentence of this paragraph) what I had, sideways, lightened it, contrasted it, sharpened it, blah blah blah, and I think you will agree that the result is unambiguous. My point here is (a): Exeter Street, WC2, and (b): that such photomanipulation is not merely now possible. My point (b) is that it is now very easy. Even I can do all of this photomanipulation, really quickly and confidently.
I can remember when the only people who could work this sort of magic were spooks in movies, and then a bit later, detectives on the television.
Talking of spookiness, I included the surveillance camera in that little detail. In London, these things are now everywhere. Because of my sideways expanding of the photo, this camera looks like it sticks out more than it really does.
The directory with all the snaps I took in Quimper and surrounding places, ten years ago, contains some fine images.
And some rather weird ones:
Okay, Citroens made of wood is not that weird. Certainly not in France.
But those really rather realistic black baby dolls is something we surely don’t do nearly so much over here. I’m guessing we have too much of a history of what you might call derogatory black dolls, unrealistically racist dolls, and that means that all black dolls are now tainted in our eyes, even much more realistic ones like the ones in that picture. They evoke a tradition and a way of thinking we would prefer not to be reminded of, or worse, to be thought to be perpetuating. When the British are being sentimental about black babies, they do it in those (I think) ghastly charity fundraising telly adverts.
But what do I know? I’m just thinking aloud. Maybe we do have lots of dolls like these in British shop windows, and I merely haven’t noticed them. But, my first reaction when I say these black babies was, as I say: weird. Certainly striking enough to take several photos of.
This I knew:
Seven Dials is a small road junction in Covent Garden in the West End of London where seven streets converge.
But this, I did not know:
At the centre of the roughly circular space is a column bearing six sundials, a result of the column being commissioned before a late stage alteration of the plans from an original six roads to seven.
I used to work in Covent Garden and Seven Dials was a favourite spot then. There was a hardware shop in one of the Seven Dials spokes, so to speak, and I used to go there a lot.
Here is a picture I took of this column and of some of its surroundings, this (very sunny) afternoon:
But, here is a picture I took of the inscription at the bottom of the column, which I never noticed before:
So, was a replacement column put up, around that time?
Yes. The original column went to Weybridge, via Addlestone, which reminds me of trains from Egham when I was kid. “Virginia Water, Chertsey, AddleSTONE and Weybridge”, an old man used to yell, just before the train for these locations departed. I used to love that. But I digress. Here’s what happened to the original Seven Dials column:
The original sundial column was removed in 1773. It was long believed that it had been pulled down by an angry mob, but recent research suggests it was deliberately removed by the Paving Commissioners in an attempt to rid the area of “undesirables”. The remains were acquired by architect James Paine, who kept them at his house in Addlestone, Surrey, from where they were bought in 1820 by public subscription and re-erected in nearby Weybridge as a memorial to Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia, Duchess of York and Albany.
The replacement sundial column was installed in 1988–89 to the original design. It was unveiled by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on a visit to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of William and Mary, during which the area was developed.
Original design presumably means that, just like the original, the new column only has six dials at the top.