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Peter Chapman on Africa is (still) big
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Most recent entries
- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
- Making blue by copying tarantulas
- An old person television set
- Battersea from Clapham Junction
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Category archive: History
I often travel to Euston by tube, changing there from or to the Victoria Line to or from the Northern Line, but I very rarely emerge into the street at Euston. But yesterday, I did this. I arrived by tube and I exited via the main concourse of the main railway station, on account of these new concourses being, I think, interesting places. And then when I exited from the main station, I noticed, for the first time, the rather handsome statue of Robert Stephenson that is to be seen out there, if you do that.
This statue is very fine, I think:
Perhaps because of its modern surroundings, I suspected this statue of being a recent piece of pseudo-antiquity, perhaps motivated by guilt for all the architectural antiquity at Euston that got demolished. But no, the statue dates from a mere decade after Stephenson’s death, which was in 1859.
I only discovered just now that Robert Stephenson designed the Rocket, the first ever steam locomotive. I thought his dad George did that, but George merely did the railway. Blog and learn.
I am nearing the end of Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. Apparently the paperback of this book is now on the paperback best-seller list. This is good news, because it is very good, and quite lacking in any major traces of leftist delusion or silliness.
Here, for instance, is what Marshall says about the Middle East (pp. 176-180):
… Until a few years ago Turkey was held up as an example of how a Middle Eastern country, other than Israel, could embrace democracy. That example has taken a few knocks recently with the ongoing Kurdish problem, the difficulties facing some of the tiny Christian communities and the tacit support for Islamist groups in their fight against the Syrian government. President Erdogan’s remarks on Jews, race and gender equality, taken with the creeping Islamisation of Turkey, have set alarm bells ringing. However, compared with the majority of Arab states Turkey is far more developed and recognisable as a democracy. Erdogan may be undoing some of Ataturk’s work, but the grandchildren of the Father of the Turks live more freely than anyone in the Arab Middle East.
Because the Arab states have not experienced a similar opening-up and have suffered from colonialism, they were not ready to turn the Arab uprisings (the wave of protests that started in 2010) into a real Arab Spring. Instead they soured into perpetual rioting and civil war.
The Arab Spring is a misnomer, invented by the media; it clouds our understanding of what is happening. Too many reporters rushed to interview the young liberals who were standing in city squares with placards written in English, and mistook them for the voice of the people and the direction of history. Some journalists had done the same during the ‘Green Revolution’, describing the young students of north Tehran as the ‘Youth of Iran’, thus ignoring the other young Iranians who were joining the reactionary Basij militia and Revolutionary Guard.
In 1989 in Eastern Europe there was one form of totalitarianism: Communism. In the majority of people’s minds there was only one direction in which to go: towards democracy, which was thriving on the other side of the Iron Curtain. East and West shared a historical memory of periods of democracy and civil society. The Arab world of 2011 enjoyed none of those things and faced in many different directions. There were, and are, the directions of democracy, liberal democracy (which differs from the former), nationalism, the cult of the strong leader and the direction in which many people had been facing all along - Islam in its various guises, including Islamism.
In the Middle East power does indeed flow from the barrel of a gun. Some good citizens of Misrata in Libya may want to develop a liberal democratic party, some might even want to campaign for gay rights; but their choice will be limited if the local de facto power shoots liberal democrats and gays. Iraq is a case in point: a democracy in name only, far from liberal, and a place where people are routinely murdered for being homosexual.
The second phase of the Arab uprising is well into its stride. This is the complex internal struggle within societies where religious beliefs, social mores, tribal links and guns are currently far more powerful forces than ‘Western’ ideals of equality, freedom of expression and universal suffrage. The Arab countries are beset by prejudices, indeed hatreds of which the average Westerner knows so little that they tend not to believe them even if they are laid out in print before their eyes. We are aware of our own prejudices, which are legion, but often seem to turn a blind eye to those in the Middle East.
The routine expression of hatred for others is so common in the Arab world that it barely draws comment other than from the region’s often Western-educated liberal minority who have limited access to the platform of mass media. Anti-Semitic cartoons which echo the Nazi Der Sturmer propaganda newspaper are common. Week in, week out, shock-jock imams are given space on prime-time TV shows.
Western apologists for this sort of behaviour are sometimes hamstrung by a fear of being described as one of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalists’. They betray their own liberal values by denying their universality. Others, in their naivety, say that these incitements to murder are not widespread and must be seen in the context of the Arabic language, which can be given to flights of rhetoric. This signals their lack of understanding of the ‘Arab street’, the role of the mainstream Arab media and a refusal to understand that when people who are full of hatred say something, they mean it.
When Hosni Mubarak was ousted as President of Egypt it was indeed people power that toppled him, but what the outside world failed to see was that the military had been waiting for years for an opportunity to be rid of him and his son Gamal, and that the theatre of the street provided the cover they needed. It was only when the Muslim Brotherhood called its supporters out that there was enough cover. There were only three institutions in Egypt: Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, the military and the Brotherhood. The latter two destroyed the former, the Brotherhood then won an election, began turning Egypt into an Islamist state, and paid the price by itself being overthrown by the real power in the land - the military.
The Islamists remain the second power, albeit now underground. When the anti-Mubarak demonstrations were at their height the gatherings in Cairo attracted several hundred thousand people. After Mubarak’s fall, when the radical Muslim Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi returned from exile in Qatar, at least a million people came out to greet him, but few in the Western media called this the ‘voice of the people’. The liberals never had a chance. Nor do they now. This is not because the people of the region are radical; it is because if you are hungry and frightened, and you are offered either bread and security or the concept of democracy, the choice is not difficult.
In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers, many innocent people die. It looks as if it will be that way in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and possibly other countries for years to come.
As regulars here will know, I am interested by the phenomenon of colour. I don’t mean people of colour, and all the arguments around that. I mean the colours of things like paint, walls, modern architecture. Red, blue, green, yellow. Actual colours. (Plus also: black and white.)
So, I was greatly intrigued by a piece that I recently encountered, about how blue tarantula spiders are inspiring techies to make 3D printed blue.
Tarantulas aren’t usually known for having a striking blue color, but the ones that do recently inspired new technology that can produce vibrant, 3D-printed color that will never fade.
Back in 2015, a team of researchers led by the University of Akron marveled at the spiders’ blue hue and concluded that it was created not from pigment but from nanostructures in their hairs. In other words, these tarantulas are blue because of structural color, which is produced through light scattering caused by structures of sub-micrometer size features made by translucent materials.
I love grand histories of everything, which look at the past, present and future of mankind through just the one lens. Weapons. Communications. Spices. Potatoes. That kind of thing. I recently purchased a book called The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World. Well, one of the next books I am going to purchase is likely to be a history of the world seen entirely in terms of mankind’s quest for colour - natural and artificial, or, as above, and I suspect very typically, a combination of the two.
Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.
More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):
Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.
Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor. Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.
I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient. Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.
I am reading Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall, a new name to me. (He has also written what looks like a rather interesting book about flags.) Today I read this (pp. 116-117), about the size of Africa:
The world’s idea of African geography is flawed. Few people realise just how big it is. This is because most of us use the standard Mercator world map. This, as do other maps, depicts a sphere on a flat surface and thus distorts shapes. Africa is far, far longer than usually portrayed, which explains what an achievement it was to round the Cape of Good Hope, and is a reminder of the importance of the Suez Canal to world trade. Making it around the Cape was a momentous achievement, but once it became unnecessary to do so, the sea journey from Western Europe to India was reduced by 6,000 miles.
If you look at a world map and mentally glue Alaska onto California, then turn the USA on its head, it appears as if it would roughly fit into Africa with a few gaps here and there. In fact Africa is three times bigger than the USA. Look again at the standard Mercator map and you see that Greenland appears to be the same size as Africa, and yet Africa is actually fourteen times the size of Greenland! You could fit the USA, Greenland, India, China, Spain, France, Germany and the UK into Africa and still have room for most of Eastern Europe. We know Africa is a massive land mass, but the maps rarely tell us how massive.
I guess that part of the reason why Africa has tended to be regarded as smaller than it is, in recent decades, is that Africa has not counted for all that much, globally, in recent decades. We can expect to hear many repetitions of the above observation, as Africa develops economically, towards being the economic giant that it already is physically.
LATER: I see that I have written about this before, in a posting that proves what Marshall says about all the countries that will fit inside Africa.
I am always banging on about my collection of photos, but my collection of books is also, in some cases, becoming a bit interesting. Here, for instance, is a bit from a book that was published in 1980, by Peter Laurie, called The Micro Revolution. (pp.202-204)
At the time of writing (early 1979) the microprocessor was much discussed and many people were asking what it would do to industry and employment. My own ideas, for what they are worth, are presented here and there through this book; at this point it might be worth summarizing a study by the American management consultancy firm of Arthur D. Little Inc, which was carried out between 1976 and 1978, cost $2 million to perform and whose detailed results are available for $35,000 a copy.
The survey looked at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. It predicted that by 1987 - that is, in seven years time - the annual market for products incorporating microprocessors will be worth $30 thousand million. If computers are added. ‘It appears that by the end of the next decade every citizen of a developed country will spend an average of £100 a year on microprocessors.’
In more detail, the prediction was that American cars would be forced by strict legislation on pollution standards to install micros to control ignition and carburettion. In Europe, where people are less fussy, this development would lag. But in all countries, micros would be widely used for information and entertainment in the car.
It is predicted that the home market will be the largest, with something like 400 million intelligent units a year worth $50 each being sold in 1987. Micros will be used in many different products - we have already talked about the entertainment-communications-computer unit which will look like a TV set with a computer added. There will also be all sorts of intelligent toys, kitchen gadgets, security systems, gardening devices.
In the office there will be a large sale for text processing, facsimile and copying machines, electronic telephones, dictating systems and communication processors. If the Post Offices provide data highways to match, this will result in the ‘virtual city’ described in chapter 9.
Industrial systems will be slower to incorporate micros (a) because they differ one from another and it is not easy to mass produce equipment for this market; and (b) because what is used has to be extremely reliable - and only time can prove that.
Arthur D. Little predicts that micros will generate 400,000 extra jobs in Europe in firms making, installing and servicing equipment incorporating them. It is inescapable that if microprocessors are widely used they will increase material wealth. However, they will also put a lot of people out of work, and there is no guarantee that these people will be easily, or indeed ever, retrained for new jobs. In fact the whole thing looks like producing considerable industrial dislocation; because along with the people who will not be needed there will go a tremendous shortage of people who are needed. As early as 1979, my eighteen-year-old son, with only school computing and three months of work on microdevelopment behind him, was offered £300 a week to work in Holland. GEC said recently that they alone could employ every British electronics graduate. There is no doubt that over the next ten years anyone who can pass himself off as understanding the micro will be in great demand, and will be able to make large amounts of money in exploiting his talents.
For this decade at least there are going to be wonderful opportunities for intelligent and independent people. The classical example is young Wozniak who, in 1976, at the age of 21, with his friend Steve, set to work in his parents’ California garage to build a microcomputer. ‘I sold my calculator and Steve sold his van and we used the money to hire a printed circuit artist to layout the boards.’ In 1979 Wozniak, now 23, and the employer of 200 people was planning to ship $75 million worth of his APPLE computers.
Friday is my day for cats and other creatures, but it is also David Thompson’s day for more substsantial collections of all this weird and wonderful on the internet, and one ephemeron (ephemeros? ephemerum?) in his collection today is this:
Brutalist colouring book. Because concrete needs colour.
I followed that link.
Brutalism lovers, sharpen your cold grey and warm grey pencils and add some colour to some great concrete constructions. First edition of 500 hundred copies. Each copy is numbered.
Ooh. First edition. Numbered copies. Very arty. Sign of the times? I want it to be.
I have long thought that the brutalities of brutalism could use a bit of softening, and actually, a lot of softening. With colour. Bring it on.
Someone who agreed with me, from way back was, actually, would you believe?: Le Corbusier. He was into bright colours to soften the brutalities of his brutalism, from the getgo.
(See also: these colourful kittens. No softening needed there, but it was done anyway.)
Recently, I have been posting (for example here and here and there) photos that I took quite a while back, of scenes that are now different or in some way ephemeral, that fact often being noted in the postings themselves.
Here is another such:
This photo, taken in November 2003, is ephemeral in two ways.
First, there are men at work on the top of the Gherkin there. The photo is not technically that good, if only because the camera wasn’t that good, and neither was the light on that particular day. But, click to get it twice as big, and you will surely agree that men is definitely what we do see there. Never before that day had I seen men at work on the top of the Gherkin, unless you count before it was finished (buildings still being built being another rich source of ephemera), and never have I seen this since that day. It may be that these guys were in fact finishing the Gherkin, in some way that I don’t know about. Whatever, there they are.
And the second ephemeral thing about this photo is that it dates from the time when the Gherkin stood in something approximating to splendid isolation. The same shot taken from the same spot today (outside Liverpool Street Station) would surely contain a Cheesegrater at the very least, and probably several other Big Things.
Why did Britain (and her allies) fight WW1? Was Britain (were they) right to fight WW1?
Recently I had an email exchange with Patrick Crozier concerning World War 1, about which he knows a great deal.
Patrick to me:
The other day you suggested I write something on why Britain fought the First World War but I can’t quite remember what precisely the question was.
I suppose what I am asking is what question would you like to see addressed?
Me to Patrick:
I suppose there are two big questions. And quite a few smaller ones.
(1) What did the Allies think they were fighting WW1 for? What did they think the world would turn into, that was bad, that fighting the war and winning it would prevent?
This question divides into two parts: officialdom, and public opinion. Officialdom clearly thought WW1 worth fighting, and they at least persuaded public opinion for the duration. Did officialdom tell the truth about its real motives? If so, was this persuasive? If they told a different story for public consumption, ditto?
It is my understanding that the Blackadder Version of things, that it was all a futile waste of blood and treasure and that it achieved bugger all for anyone, only caught on in Britain the thirties, when the Communists got into their public stride following the Great Crash. Before that, British public opinion both stayed steady during the war, and afterwards was glad it had won. So, I guess there’s also a question about whether that’s right, and about the timing of the change, if and when it happened.
(2) What do YOU think the Allies actually accomplished? In other words, were they right to fight the war, given their objectives? And were they right, given YOUR objectives? Did winning WW1 actually make the world, in your judgement, a less bad place than it would have been if not fought, or, if fought, lost?
I note a confusion on my part between Britain and Britain plus all its allies. I’m not sure which I am asking about. Britain a lot, but actually all of them.
Underneath everything is a judgement, by the protagonists and by you, about what the Kaiser’s Germany was trying to do and would have tried to do in the event of victory, whether and to what extent it could have done it, and how bad that would have been.
Rather a lot of questions, I fear. I suggest you start by answering the one of them that you feel you now can already answer with the most confidence.
Blackadder link added. ("The poor old ostrich died for nothing.")
Patrick to me:
Wow, that’s a lot to be getting on with and it may require some research.
I promise to try to produce a decent answer to all that. Whether I succeed or not is another matter.
Me to Patrick:
PS Would you have any objection to me putting this exchange up at my personal blog?
Patrick to me:
Not at all.
My thanks to Patrick, both for the rather flattering exchange and for the permission to recycle it here. I do not regard Patrick as in any way obligated to me or to anyone to answer these questions, and I put them here partly for that reason. They strike me as interesting questions, whether he answers them or not.
No doubt others have answered such questions already, over the years. Another way of putting my questions would simply be to say: and what did these answers, over the years, consist of?
It seems to be believed by almost all Europeans now that WW1 was a disaster, that it did no good whatever. (WW2, in contrast, was a good war. Germany by then had gone totally bad, and WW2 put a stop to that bad Germany, albeit at further huge cost.) But what if one of the alternatives to the WW1 that actually happened might have been even worse? What if the disaster that was WW1 did actually accomplish something quite valuable? I’m not arguing that this is actually the case. I don’t know, and am simply asking.
Comments about these questions, or for that matter any proper comments, would be most welcome.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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:
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.