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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

Wednesday May 16 2018

I was rootling around in the archives for something interesting, and this time I really went back, to the time of my very first digital camera.  And in among lots of photos of my friends and GodDaughters all looking eighteen years younger, I found this photo, taken while on a trip around the Wheel, of the Guy’s Hospital Tower, looking just as brutally (because Brutalist) ugly then as it does now:

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That’s right, no Shard.

But more to the point, it shows what a Big Thing that building in the middle there used to be.

And I’ve said it here before.  This was London’s Montparnasse Tower.  What Paris concluded from the Montparnasse Tower was: never again.  But what London concluded from the Guy’s Hospital Tower was: we need to build lots of bigger towers, so that this one won’t be any part of the definition of London.  And in particular, we need to put a really big Big Thing, right next to this big old thing.

So, in the photo: Guy’s Hospital, and no Shard.

And: without Guy’s Hospital, also no Shard.

Monday May 14 2018

Having spent a week appreciating the Frenchness of France, I now find myself especially noticing the Englishness of England:

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1.1 (cricket in Vincent Square) and 1.2 (Prince Albert outside his Hall) were taken yesterday afternoon.  2.1 (Westminster Abbey plus Big Ben smothered in scaffolding (plus a tiny bit of Wheel)) was taken yesterday evening.  2.2 (a Handley Page Victor recently acquired by a friend) was taken earlier this evening.

Tuesday May 08 2018

Yesterday I recounted that, after climbing to the viewing gallery towards the top of one of the twin towers of Quimper Cathedral, I had hoped to see a lot of bridges, but I didn’t.  I also said: never mind, because I am bound to see other things that I wasn’t even hoping to see.

Things like this:

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That is the inside of the spire, above the viewing gallery that we climbed up to.  You could just step into the space below that, directly from the viewing gallery.  Amazing.  I did not see that coming.

The medieval towers of Quimper Cathedral were rectangular, like those of Durham Cathedral.  The spires were nineteenth century additions, as is explained here:

Building started in the 12th century and continued at intervals until the 19th century, when the two spires were constructed and new stained glass windows were installed.

I would say that those spires were inspired additions, ho ho.  I like them in particular because they greatly increase the number of spots in Quimper from which you can see the tops of the Cathedral, which the spires made both much taller and much more recognisable.  Thanks to these spires, the Cathedral is far more of a local landmark than it would have been otherwise.

Friday May 04 2018

I have been reading more of Leo McKinstry’s Operation Sealion, and very fine it is too.  I hadn’t been keeping up with McKinstry’s books, but now learn that, among several other topics, he has written books about Alf Ramsey, Jack Hobbs, and the Hawker Hurricane ("Victor of the Battle of Britain").  Memo to self: read more books, do less internetting.

In the Sealion book I have already encountered two little nuggets that were new to me.

After the “deliverance” that was Dunkirk, Churchill apparently said (p. 86):

“We’ve got the men away, but we’ve lost the luggage.”

I’d not heard that one before.

And nor did I know about this, concerning another Ramsay, Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who masterminded the Dunkirk evacuation (p.81):

The genius behind Dynamo, Admiram Ramsay, rewarded himself on 4 June with a well-deserved round of golf, on the course at Sandwich nearby, and, liberated from the strain, proceeded to attain the best score of his life.

I find it interesting that McKinstry seems to divide his writing time about equally between war and sport.  I wonder if he has developed any opinions about how these things relate to one another, along, for instance, lines like these.

Wednesday April 25 2018

I like doing podcasts, and have recently resumed doing this.  The difference between these and earlier efforts is that I am not making the mistake of trying to be the interviewer, a role which I have learned, the hard way, that I am utterly unsuited to.

I do not, however, like doing podcasts because I assume that I will reach a huge audience with my brilliant insights and opinions.  Rather is it that I deepen my friendships with the people I share the microphone with.  The first is a mere outside chance.  The second is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although neither I nor any of the other people whom I podcast with assumes that we will reach a huge audience, we know that we probably will reach some sort of audience, probably very tiny, of friends and acquaintances and general passers-by, and that means that we had better say things we have thought about and which we mean and which are worth saying.  We need to be at our conversational best, just in case.

Compare that with two or three of us just chatting in a pub or an eatery or in one of our homes, but with no microphone on.  The level of conversational intensity, so to speak, is, in those circumstances, far lower.

Almost all of my renewed podcasting activity has been with Patrick Crozier.  I recall with particular pleasure the first of these recent efforts that we did about World War 1.  Who else has listened in?  I have no idea.  But I listened.  He listened.  I can listen again, and I have, more than once, because so many interesting things, I think, got talked about.

More recently, I took part in a group podcast on the subject of freedom of speech, alongside Jordan Lee, Bruno Nardi and Tamiris Loureiro.  On that occasion I can be sure that others were listening, because there was a room semi-full of people, listening, right there, in the Two Chairmen, where Libertarian Home meetings now all seem to happen.

The microphone that Bruno placed in our midst was distinguished by its size and its striking appearance.  I photoed it:

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That photo, for me, illustrates the bigness of the difference that a microphone makes to a conversation.  Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris are all slightly better friends of mine now than they would have been if we’d not done this.

Why then, do I not switch on a microphone during my Last Friday of the Month meetings?  Maybe I will start doing this.  But for now, I believe that a roomful of people, assembled to hear a particular person speak on a particular subject, achieves that same heightened level of attention and conversational concentration that a microphone achieves for a smaller group of people who are talking amongst themselves.

It is also helpful for speakers to be absolutely sure that their talks won’t go straight to the www, and that means that they can confidently take an early shot at a new subject, with all the errors, hesitations and confusions that might occur.  Ideas need to be nurtured and shaped and polished, and that is far easier to do if such early efforts are not being bugged.

This Friday, I have another of my Last Friday meetings.  Dominic Frisby will be doing an early dry-run version of his Financial Game Show, which will be having a run of performances for real at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I’m pretty sure that me threatening to switch on a microphone during this out-of-town preliminary try-out version, so to speak, would have been a deal-breaker.

There’ll be another early version for this show at the King’s Head, Crouch End, on May 22nd.  I attended the very first outing of it at the same venue last Monday, and I can report that I and the rest of the small crowd had a lot of fun.  As Frisby reports at the bottom of this piece in MoneyWeek:

We had fun. My MoneyWeek colleague, Ben Judge, turned out to be the winner, prompting many in the audience to make accusations of an inside job.

Yes.  This was a pity, because actually what came across rather well was how imperfect the knowledge of financial experts often is, and how other people, with direct experience of whatever it is, often know more than them.

Sunday April 22 2018

And again, five years ago today, on April 23rd 2013.

The usual procedure has been followed for these clutches of photoer photos.  I consider only photos where the photoer face isn’t recognisable.  Then, I just pick what seem like the nicest photos, chosen for things like fun things in the background (1.2, 3.4), fun photoer posture (1.1, 2.1, 3.2) or fingerwork (2.2), fun clothing or headgear (4.3), fun decoration on the hands (4.4), really clear photos of the camera (1.3), or other crazy things also happening (4.1).  And enjoyable hair.  Always that.

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There are X different sorts of camera to be seen:

Real Photographer cameras (5); small dedicated cameras, of the sort now rapidly being replaced by mobile phones (6); mobile phones (2), both in one photo (1.4); a clunky old video camera (1); a big screen tablet (1).  The surprise to me is how few mobiles there are in these photos.  Big screen tablet photoing was big for a while, but hasn’t caught on, probably because they are too inconvenient to be lugging around with you.  Easier to just get used to photoing with a mobile.  The new big screen question is: What is the biggest that the screen of a mobile can conveniently be?  I see quite a few of these “big mobile phones” nowadays.  If I ever get another mobile phone, this is what it will be.

The logical thing would be for pockets to get bigger.  I assume this is now happening.

Yes, ten years ago to the day.  April 23rd, 2008:

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Memo to self: Go again to Alexandra Palace, and try to photo the exact same view, to illustrate what has changed.

No Cheesegrater.  The Gherkin stands in something resembling splendid isolation.

No Shard.  Just to the right of middle tower of the three dark Barbican (I think) towers on the right, we see Guy’s Hospital, in warmly lit concrete.  The Shard is now right next to that.

That’s just for starters.  Those are the two biggest changes.  But there’d surely be others.  The Gherkin is now almost surrounded by huge stuff.

Monday April 16 2018

Twitter is causing ever more interesting things to pile up on my computer screen, and slow everything down.  (I know, “bookmarks”.  Hate them.) So, here is a blog posting consisting of such links.  Which I can come back to and follow through on but probably never will, but possibly just might.

Eyebrows - we all have them, but what are they actually for?

The Kremlin has a Reckless Self-Image Problem.

Via 6k, how to take bizarre photos by stuffing wire wool into a egg whisk, setting the wire wool on fire, and swinging all that around on a rope.  Do not try this at home, unless you want to burn down your home.

Next, a Twitter posting about cactus patterns:

So frustrating! My cactus patterns are going viral on FB, but the person who posted the photo of them a) didn’t credit me and b) deletes any comments I write responding to people asking for the patterns.

But what if she made that up? As a ruse to get the world to pay attention to her cactus patterns?  Or, what if she hired, in good faith, some sleazy “internet marketer” who deliberately posted her photos on some faked-up Facebook site, minus any credit, told her about it, and then blocked her complaints?  The sleazy internet marketer then advised her to complain about this to all and sundry, knowing that all and sundry would sympathise.  She seems like an honest person, doing honest business, which is why I pass this on.  But a decade of internetting has made me cynical.

Next, a Spectator piece about someone called Scaramucci, who is writing a book about Trump.  The piece says more about Scaramucci than it does about Trump, but his book sounds like it will be quite good.  Scaramucci sounds like he has his head screwed on right, unlike a lot of the people who write Trump books.

Also in the Spectator, Toby Young realises that his wife is smarter than he is.  And she chose to stay at home and raise their kids because that’s what she wanted to do.  You can feel the tectonic plates of Western Civilisation shifting back towards stay-at-home mumhood, even as mere policy continues to discourage it.  Jordan Peterson, take a bow.  That man is already raising the birth rate in rich countries, by encouraging both fatherhood and motherhood.  The only question is: By how much?  Trivially, or significantly?  My bet, with the passing of a bit of time: significantly.

George Bernard Shaw tells it like it was and is about Islam.  I lost track of how I chanced upon that, but there it is.  These days, GBS would probably get a talking-to from the Thought Police, a talking-to which might well include the words: “We’re not the Thought Police”.  If the Thought Police were to have a go at her, they just might get an earful themselves.

Mike Fagan liked this photo of Mont Saint Michel with sheep in the foreground.  I can’t any longer find when he liked it, but he did.  Reminds me of this Millau Viaduct photo, also with sheep in the foreground.

Boaty McBoatface got turned into David bloody Attenborough, but Trainy McTrainface proudly rides the railway lines of Sweden.  As usual, You Had One Job supplied no link (so no link to them), but here’s the story.

Thank you Paul Marks for telling me about someone telling me about Napoleon’s greatest foe.  His name?  Smith.

The sun is now spotless, or it was on April 11th.

David Baddiel has doubts about the bloke who said “gas the Jews” rather a lot, to a dog.  As do I.  It should be legal, but don’t expect me to laugh.

Tim Worstall:

All of which leads to the correct Brexit stance to be taking. No deal. We’ll go to unilateral free trade and the rest of you can go boil your heads. We’ll give it a couple of decades and we’ll see who is richer, OK?

Quillette: The China Model Is Failing

The three temporarily separate Elizabeth lines.

Wisdom.

Anton Howes on Sustained Economic Growth.

John Arnold made a fortune at Enron.  He is now spending some of it on criticising bad science.

Human genes reveal history.  This book is number (about) twenty on my to-read list.

Philip Vander Elst on How Communism Survived Thanks to Capitalist Technology.

And finally, Bryan Caplan still thinks this is pretty good.

I now feel much better.  And more to the point, my computer seems a lot sprightlier than it was.  This has been the computerised equivalent of cleaning my room.  The job is not done, but I have taken a chunk bite out of it.

Saturday April 07 2018

Yes, ten years ago to the day, I was photoing photoers, and it is now a vanished era.  Of dedicated, cheap, small cameras:

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It’s the red ones I like best.

Thursday April 05 2018

Twitter is getting seriously addictive for me these days.  What will stop that is that it is getting a bit samey, as the same people keep on saying the same things.

Kristian Niemietz spends most of his Twitter time shouting at Corbynistas.  So I was rather delighted to see this:

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Miemietz supplies no link, which I hate.  This hatred reminds me of the time when I used to rain curses down upon would be Libertarian Alliance authors who did not supply proper footnotes, in that now long gone era when there were no links.  Just footnotes.  I know, weird.

To quote myself (who else will?):

If you submit something to the LA for publication, your manuscript must be legible, and it must be complete. If we publish it exactly as you have submitted it, you should be content. On the other hand, if we are unable to publish it as it stands, either because we can’t read it, or because it lacks vital details, we will not be at all content.

We do not favour the “people generally, are, in a general way, inclined to think approximately such and such” style of writing. Who thinks it? Exactly what do they think? Where’s the proof that this is what they think? You should supply chapter and verse. If you are depending upon or taking issue with some written point of view or other, it is essential that you should enable your readers to acquaint themselves at first hand with what you are praising or criticising. They must be able to satisfy themselves that your criticisms are fair. They must, if encouraged by your praise of something, be able to explore further. The LA would be a waste of everyone’s time if all that happened was that a whole bunch of people read everything published by the LA, but read - or wrote - nothing else.

Accordingly, you must supply complete and accurate footnotes. ...

Ah, those were the days.  It’s a wondrous exercise in invective, though I say it myself.

Although, I note that I broke my own rule.  Who actually said: “no one says that”?

But however much those days were the days, I still prefer these days, when you just shove in a link.  Much easier.

Like this link, to the actual story about the missing cat that no longer was missing.

Later: Also this.

Sunday April 01 2018

I became fixated on Spurs in the 1960s, like a baby goose, because then they were so good.  Plus, I always like their Jewish angle and still do.  I have supported them, strictly at a distance and media access permitting, ever since. They’ve been sporadically good since that ancient time, but never as good.  Finally, that seems like it might be changing.

Today Spurs beat Chelsea at Chelsea, the last time they did that having been in 1990.  Spurs are now in fourth place, which if they stay there is high enough to get them into the Champions League again.  They are now 8 points clear of Chelsea in fifth.  With seven more games to be played, it’s not settled yet, but things just got a lot better for Spurs.

I just watched Dele Alli’s two goals on the TV highlights, and with both it was not just the skill but the speed with which he did what he did that was so impressive.  Before that, Eriksen hit what the radio commentators were calling a potential goal of the season.  One of those long distance, fast and late inswingers.

So, to celebrate, here is a photo I took of the new Spurs stadium, which will get moved into next season or thenabouts.  It will be a few games before the Spurs team settles in and starts enjoying their home advantage whenever they play there.  But judging by how well they did this season at the at first unfamiliar Wembley, it shouldn’t take them too long to settle into New White Hart Lane.

So, this is how New White Hart Lane was looking last November, with one of the Walthamstow reservoirs in the foreground:

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Mmmm.  Cranes.

I haven’t checked progress more recently, and can offer no photos from since then.  But here are 103 more pictures, and counting, of New White Hart Lane’s progress.  I knew you’d be excited.

Thursday March 29 2018

The other day, I photoed the Battle of Britain Monument.  This is across the road from the Victoria Embankment Gardens, which I also explored, to begin with just to find out if I could.  I could.  This contains various war memorials and statues, but also many things that you are either urged to do or urged not do:

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That is a horizontal slice of a sign next to one of the entrances.  Click to get the whole thing.

It reminds me of an American book I read long ago entitled Please Don’t Eat The Daisies.  The point of that title being that every time the American parents described in the book left their American children to their own devices, they had to ask them to please refrain from an ever longer list of things that they had previously done which were bad.  One time, they ate the daisies.  So, that had to be added to the list of things they were begged not to do.

Each of the do-this don’t-do-this red circles above feels to me like a moment in the past when people started doing or to fail to do whatever it was in noticeable numbers, having previously not thus misbehaved.

Monday March 26 2018

Today I was out and about, enjoying one of those First Day of Spring days, of which we get quite a few, and I always try to get out and photo-celebrate them.

This time I walked along the river on the north side, from Westminster to the Embankment.  Which took me past the Battle of Britain Monument, of which this is a detail:

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That was the only photo I took of this Monument.  Such is my eyesight that I had no idea how intense those faces were and are, until I saw them on my screen.  It’s their eyes.

If your eyes don’t work properly and you go on a sightseeing walk, the only way you will actually get to see what you saw properly is to photo it.

Saturday March 24 2018

I have something I need to stick up here and then forget about.  There’s an architectural thing that I write about here, which I refer to as “keeping up appearances”.  The best photo I have ever taken of this kind of thing is this one, which is of a quite tall but not at all wide sliver of facade, that presumably still stands in Oxford Street, but now with an entirely new building erected behind that facade.

But that wasn’t keeping up appearances. this is keeping up appearances:

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It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and what it will be is the new headquarters of the USA’s Department of Homeland Security.

This newly designed building will preserve the appearance of the old, but hollow it out completely.  Behind its old facade, it will be something new.  Something else entirely.  Which is very appropriate, I think you will agree.

Friday March 23 2018

Yes, today’s “other creature” is a sealion, Operation Sealion, Hitler’s plan to invade Britain in 1940.  And this posting is another bit from a book.  Which book?  Well, I greatly admire the books of Leo McKinstry, and have done ever since I read his wonderful biography of Geoffrey Boycott.  So, as soon as I discovered that McKinstry had written a book about Operation Sealion, I bought it.  I now possess it, and as soon as I have read the other seven or eight books above it in my TO READ list, I will start reading it.  I may even start reading it sooner than that.

This early bit (pp. 4-6), from the Introduction, has already confirmed the wisom of the purchase:

Wartime legend has presented the heroics of the RAF as an exception to an otherwise desperate military performance by Britain in I940. In this narrative, there is a chasm between the daring and efficiency of Fighter Command and the woeful inadequacy of most other parts of the British war effort.  Defeat was inevitable if the RAF was overwhelmed, according to the traditional account, which portrays Britain as hopelessly ill equipped in the face of the Nazi war machine. It was a supposed weakness highlighted by the paralysis in the civil service, the chronic shortages of men and weaponry in the regular army, the lack of modern vessels in the navy and the country’s feeble home defences. The might of Hitler’s Reich, which had blitzed its way through Poland, Scandinavia and Western Europe, would hardly have been deterred by some hastily erected pillboxes, rolls of barbed wire and lightweight guns. The ultimate symbol of Britain’s alleged vulnerability in I940 was the Home Guard, that makeshift force of volunteers whose very nickname, ‘Dad’s Army’, was so redolent of its antiquated nature in the savage new age of total war. Made famous for future generations by the television comedy series of the I970s, the Home Guard appeared more likely to provoke laughter than fear in the invader. The image of Home Guardsmen, devoid of rifles or uniforms, performing their pointless drill routines with broomsticks and pitchforks, has long been held to characterise how badly prepared Britain was. This outlook is encapsulated in a remark made by a volunteer from Great Yarmouth when his unit was inspected in the summer of 1940 by a senior army officer, who asked: ‘What steps would you take if you saw the Hun come down in parachutes?’

‘Bloody long ones: came the reply.

But the commonly held belief in Britain’s defencelessness in 1940 is hardly matched by the historical facts. The Few of Fighter Command were not an exception but part of a national pattern of resolute determination and thoroughness. In almost every aspect of the war effort in 1940, Britain was far better organised than the mythology suggests. The Royal Navy’s Home Fleet, guarding every part of the southern and eastern coastlines, represented a formidable obstacle to German ambitions. Between Sheerness and Harwich alone, the navy had thirty destroyers. RAF Bomber Command relentlessly pounded the invasion fleet, weakening the morale of the German forces. Similarly, the British army had gained enormously in strength and equipment since the fall of France. In September 1940, when the invasion threat was at its height, there were no fewer than 1,760,000 regular troops in service, many of them led by tough- minded figures like Alan Brooke, Claude Auchinleck and Bernard Montgomery. The same is true of the Home Guard, whose broomsticks had by then largely vanished. Most of the volunteers were armed with highly effective American rifles, which were superior, in some respects, to those used by the regular soldiers. Outside the military sphere, the British home front was just as impressive. Aircraft production was much higher than that in Germany, factory hours longer. Major operations, like the evacuation of children from areas at risk of attack, the removal of gold from the Bank of England vaults, or the transfer of national art treasures to remote shelters in Wales, were carried out with superb efficiency.

What is so striking about the British authorities at this time is pressure for survival. During his leadership of V Corps, in the front line of the army’s southern command, Montgomery set out his creed to his officers. ‘We had got to the stage where we must do as we like as regards upsetting private property. If a house was required as an HQ it must be taken. Any material required to improve the defences must be taken.’