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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

Friday September 21 2018

The high point, literally, of the expedition that GodDaughter2 and I made to Kew Gardens back in August was our exploration of the Great Pagoda. 

From the top of the Great Pagoda, you can see the Big Things of Central London.  But what the Great Pagoda itself looks like is also worth examining.

Here is an early view we had of it:

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And here is how it looked when we got closer:

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The Daily Mail describes the Great Pagoda as Britain’s First Skyscraper.

Now look how it looked when we got closer still:

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So, what are those sticky-outy things on the corners of each sticky-outy roof?

That’s right, dragons.  And we’re not talking merely inflated dragons.  These are solid looking and scary.  You couldn’t kill these dragons with a mere pin prick, and you wouldn’t dare to try.

Most of the Great Pagoda dragons look like this:

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We discovered when we got there that the recent restoration of this Great Pagoda had, only a few weeks before our visit, been completed.  We got very lucky with that.

Read more about these dragons, and about the Pagoda that they now guard, in this Guardian report.

This Great Pagoda, London’s very first Big Thing, was built by Sir Wiiliam Chambers in 1762.  The dragons were a feature of the original Pagoda, but in 1784 they were removed.  Being made of wood, and following a burst of wet weather, they had started to rot.

Wikipedia says that Kew Gardens was adopted as a national botanical garden in 1840.  Would that be when the Pagoda was opened to the general public?  Whenever exactly that was, Kew Gardens and the Great Pagoda have been what we now call visitor attractions for quite a while now.

During World War 2, the Great Pagoda was used to test bombs.  You can still see one of the holes they made in all the floors, to allow the bombs to fall.  Keeping that for everyone to see now is a nice touch, I think.

Kew Gardens contains lots of greenery, and green stuff on sticks.  What do they call those things?  Trees.  Kew Gardens has lots and lots of trees, of many different brands.

So, on the left here, the hole in the floor.  On the right there, the seat made from many trees:

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And in the middle, the seat, seen through the hole.

But back to those dragons.  The old rotting dragons have now been almost entirely replaced by 3D printed dragons, which look solid but which are actually far lighter than the timer originals.

On the lowest roof, right near the ground, there was a different sort of dragon, which looked like this:

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I wonder what the story was of that one, for there did indeed seem to be only one such blue dragon.  Had the original plan been to make all the dragons like that one?  But did its structural weakness cause them to abandon that plan, and go with the other darker green dragon with its scary red tongue, and with its rather more solid wings?  Don’t know, but whatever the story is, the winning dragon design is pretty good also.

Everything about how the Great Pagoda looks, inside as well as its exterior, says: class.  This is a visitor attraction that I warmly recommend.  There is no lift, not originally of course, and not now, but the steps, although quite numerous, are at a comfortably mild angle - rather than, say, like the ones in the Monument.  Even better, each flight of steps you go up causes you to reach another actual floor, of the sort you can stand on, with windows looking outwards.  So, oldies like me can go up two floors, say, and then have a comfortable breather, without blocking anyone else on the stairs.  If we are on the right floor, we can even use that multi-treed seat (see above).

The weather on the day that GD2 and I visited Kew Gardens was not perfect.  The dragons look rather dark and menacing in my photos.  But that look works, I think.  And as days out go, this day out was pretty much perfect.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

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La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

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In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?

Sunday September 16 2018

I am currently reading The Closing of the Muslim Mind, by Robert R. Reilly, with a view to reviewing it for Samizdata.  Brilliant.  For as long as I’ve been reading this book, finishing reading it has been my number one concern.  Shoving up brilliant stuff here has … not.  Some Facebook friends of mine have been choosing the books that have most influenced their thinking, and this book looks like it will be added to my list.

Here is a typically illuminating paragraph from this book (on page 144 of my paperback edition – which I am happy to note is towards the end of it):

The enormous influence of Saudi Arabia today in the Muslim world is often thought by Westerners to be almost completely due to its oil wealth - petro-Islam. However, this discounts the fact that many Muslims, including in countries like Egypt, which are traditionally opposed to Saudi Arabia, see this wealth as a direct gift from Allah. Can it be only an accident that these treasures are under the sands of this particular country? No, they must be there as a reward to the Saudis for following the true path. Why else would the oil be there? - a question that has to be answered not by geologists, but within the understanding that God has directly placed the oil there as He directly does all things. The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

For the sort of Muslim Reilly is writing about (and that’s a hell of a lot of them), what we in the West refer to as “reality” is continuously created by Allah, in a succession of miraculous whims.  Even to study the laws of nature is to presume to place limits on what Allah might choose to do, and is accordingly a blasphemy.  Whatever happens was done by Allah, and is accordingly right.  Might is right.

And if the Saudis have most of the financial clout in the Muslim world, that means Allah must be on their side.

Wednesday September 12 2018

Earlier this evening, I attended a fascinating Libertarian Home talk given by Jazon Cozens, one of the founders and bosses of Glint.  (Scroll down there a bit, and I think you will see why I think I smell yet another two-man team.) Glint enables those who think that currency ought to be gold-backed to get there hands on just such a currency, thereby personally reversing, as it were, the decision by President Nixon, in 1971, to take the US dollar off the gold standard.

This talk was excellent, and was clearly saturated in Austrianism.  In the highly unlikely event that Jason Cozens has not met up with a conversed with Detlev Schlichter, he should.

Here is a photo I took of Mr Cozens waving an ancient gold coin from Roman era Britain, which he had come by in some way that he did describe but which I immediately forgot:

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And here is that coin, and him holding it, somewhat closer up:

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Glint, however, does not deploy actual gold coins.  Any gold it arranges for you to own stays in a vault in Switzerland.  You get yourself a Glint account, with whatever combination of gold or other popular currencies in it that you want, and you can buy stuff with your card, which looks and works like any other credit/debit card.

Glint would appear to be well worth investigating.

I also found the evening very advantageous on a more personal level.  I was able to solidify no less than two future Brian’s Last Fridays talks, and was able to woo two other potential future speakers of great interestingness.  Others present seemed equally busy making connections of their own.  Which is a lot of the point of such meetings, and which is all part of why I believe in organising a steady stream of them.

Monday September 03 2018

So I went looking for interesting new bridges, as I do from time to time, but found nothing interesting that I didn’t know about.  Like I say, the bridge news these days is when they collapse.

So I gave up on bridges, and instead thought about doing a posting about the Brunel Museum, which I visited on Saturday.  There is, of course, a website.  But there is also a Wikipedia entry.  And look what I found there.  That’s right, it’s the Royal Albert Bridge, Saltash, made smaller and sittable upon, with a train:

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I’m pretty sure that, while waiting to be told about the nearby Brunel tunnel under the Thames (set in motion by Brunel’s dad Marc), I and my two pals were sitting sipping our drinks within a few feet of this bridge-bench.  But it was dark, and I only found out about it just now.

Here are two things I did see:

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On the left, a bust of Marc Brunel, in the little museum.  On the right, a photo of son Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the famous photo with the huge chains behind him, projected onto the extremely grubby and deranged wall of the place where we listened to a lecture about the tunnel.  The guy is saying: “Well, you just can’t get the walls these days.”

No, he wasn’t.  He was saying something I didn’t catch because I wasn’t concentrating hard enough to make it out.  That being because the acoustics of this strange vertical cylinder in the ground were about as reverberationally bad as acoustics are able to be, and I could only make out about one in three of the words spoken by the guy, despite him being an actor who enunciated very clearly, and despite him standing about four yards from where we were sitting.

But despite all of the above, it was a fun evening.  Basically (a) because of the company, and (b) because now, when people ask me if I know anything about the Brunel Museum in Bermondsey, I can now say: Yes.  I’ve been there.  And because I had fun photoing.

Sunday September 02 2018

Every so often, I rootle through my rather chaotic (increasingly so as I go backwards) photo-archive, and every so often when I’m doing that (as I was doing last night), a particular photo jumps out, that I have no recollection at all of having taken, but (and) which I really like.

Such as this one:

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The sunlight hitting the trees, and the pavement and the road, looks rather like snow.

That’s exactly as it came out of the camera.  Which was only my second ever digital camera, a Canon A70.

Which sort of suggests that although things like superzoom on your camera have got a lot zoomier and cheaper, the basic way these things work hasn’t changed that much.

The screens on the backs of cameras, on the other hand

Although come to think of it, what we see above is a scene with an abundance of light bouncing around in it.  It’s when things get darker that the latest cameras really come into their own, compared to this old thing.  The indoor photos in the same directory, of some long ago event in Brussels that I attended, now look very blurry and dated in their appearance.  Either that, or hideously flashed, which I hate, and never do now, no matter what my camera says.

Saturday September 01 2018

I distinctly remember photoing the old Pimlico School, which was a walk away from where I live, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road.  And today, I came across those photos.  Just the two, of which this, after a bit of rotating and cropping, was the better one:

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At the time I photoed it, way back in 2004

I had no idea that it would be demolished, in 2010, and replaced with an Academy.  Read about that here.

On the very same day I took that photo of the old Pimlico School, I also took this photo:

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That was a scene that I knew would change, and now, many years later, it is changing.  But that’s quite unusual.  That was a landmark building that was definitely going to be “redeveloped”, and the only mystery was when, and in what way.  More often, buildings just get smashed down or transformed without warning.  Big scenes get rebuilt, without warning.  Oh, there is warning, if you spend your entire life looking out for such warnings.  But, I don’t.

This being part of why I take lots of photos.  Especially, now that it is so easy to take lots of photos, and so easy to store them.  That way, I am more likely to get lucky with photos of things which no longer exist, or which do still exist but which later look very different.

Thursday August 30 2018

Today, in search of something worth displaying here, I chanced upon a directory of photos of photoers who were to be seen holding more than one camera.  I gathered these photos together some time in 2010, but then never got around to doing anything with them.  Almost all of these photos seem to have been taken in and around Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge, my most usual locale for photoing photoers, then as now.

Here are some of them now:

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These photos all date from 2005 and 2006.  I was not as fussed about hiding faces in those faraway times, but as you can see, I was making some effort in this direction, at any rate enough of an effort to give me plenty of faceless photoers, so to speak, to choose from.

As to why these ladies are holding another camera, this was usually because they were in a group, and were helping to ensure sure that each photo-op was registered in every camera owned by anyone in the group, and in particular that each camera owner had a decent number of photos of themselves.  (In the above photos, in other words, we are often observing selfies being taken.) Often, I would photo ladies (ladies especially seem to hunt photos in a pack) who were taking the same photo two or even several times, with two or several cameras, one after the other, with the inactive cameras hanging down from them in a clump.  Sadly, there are no ladies to be seen here with more than two cameras on the go.

Often one of the group would ask me to take a photo of all of them, with one of their cameras, and sometimes with more than one in succession, so that they had at least one photo or some photos with everyone included.  It’s all I can do to make any sense of my own cameras, let alone anyone else’s, but I would usually do my best.

It could also be that some of these ladies are taking photos with cameras supplied to them by absent friends or partners.  Remember, in these faraway times, communicating photos from this camera to that camera was harder than it is now, and if doable, a lot more cumbersome.  How much easier for it to get my desired photo in my camera, even if I myself didn’t take it!

Sunday August 26 2018

June 8th of this year was a good day for roof clutter.  In Pimlico:

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It’s the variety I like, and the mixture of the ancient (the chimney pots (including some quite superior ones)) and the modern (aerials), that I like.  The chimney pots are often very decorative on purpose, while the more modern technology is only decorative as a throw-away consequence of how it needs to be to do its various jobs.

In one of them, there is scaffolding.

It helped, at lot, that the weather was so nice.  In my opinion, almost anything looks good in really nice weather,

Friday August 24 2018

Here are two fun and silly and consequently viral animal videos that I was recently shown on Twitter, but they both raise a non-trivial question about animals and their degree of self-awareness.

First up, a cat looks in a mirror, and is surely not aware that the other cat is him/her.  Cats are much stupider than they seem to us, because their basic method of going about things is the way a wise human goes about things, often rather slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, or else in a way that looks very alert and clever But, often they are thick as several planks.

Meanwhile, a dog watches herself on TV doing one of those canine obstacle courses in a show.  Dogs behave like stupid humans, with wildly excessive enthusiasm for stupid things, and consequently we tend to think of them as being very rather stupid.  But the typical dog is a lot cleverer than the typical cat, I believe.  Dogs don’t care how stupid they look.  Cats typically don’t either, but cats typically behave like they do care about looking stupid, unless you dangle something in front of them on a string, at which point they go crazy, unless they are too old to care.

But back to my self-awareness point.

As commenter “Matt” says, of the dog watching herself on TV:

This is amazing I hope she knows its her.

In other words, Matt is no more certain than I am that she does know it’s her.  Maybe she’s watching a totally different dog do what she likes to do, and she’s excited about that, just like any other sports fan.

The cat video ends with a variation on what seems to be a regular internet gag about misbehaving reflections (that vid being in the comments on the cat vid), but that’s a different story.  Someone else adds a Marx Brother, or maybe it’s actually two Marx Brothers, doing the same gag, in those far off days before there was an internet.

Wednesday August 22 2018

I like these photos that I took last March.  I like the rather sombre light.  If my camera is to be believed, it was around 6.30 pm:

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On the left, the “South Bank Tower”.  Not interesting enough to the general public for it to have a name.  On the right, what I prefer to call The Wheel.  And in the middle?  I tend to call it One Blackfriars, but as Londonist points out, many people are calling this the Boomerang.

I also like it when Big Things aren’t quite ready and are still be worked on, but you can clearly see how they’ll look.  My very first digital camera coincided with the finishing off of the Gherkin and I have the photos to prove it, and ever since then, I’ve collected such architectural moments.  (My first digital camera also coincided with the last months of Concorde, but I don’t have the photos to prove that, which I still regret.)

And, as I only just remembered to say: the vertical bit on the far right is the edge of all that activity going on around the old Shell Building, and the building in the foreground is just flats, next to the iMax roundabout.

LATER:  Concerning the Boomerang, one of Michael Jennings’s Facebook friends (and actual friends, I think), who is called Lee J Tee, says this:

I actually really like that building. In general I think most of the modern buildings in London are worthy. A world class city deserves unique buildings and London has plenty of them, all different from each other and I like that individuality.

Amen.

I absolutely don’t understand how Facebook works, and probably never will, so I have no idea if I even can link to this, let alone whether, if I can, I should.  So, just take my words for it.

Someone else says that, actually, what I have been calling the “Boomerang” is “informally known as The Vase”.  Well, well.  I prefer that to Boomerang.

Tuesday August 21 2018

Yes, photoers photoed by me exactly ten years ago to the day, in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey, Westminster Bridge, Parliament, etc.:

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Cameras you don’t see much any more.  Even a free London newspaper you don’t see at all, any more.

Even the guy just smoking while photoing now looks a bit noughties.

Tuesday August 14 2018

Just a question, suggested by this bridge disaster. today, in Genoa.

Every few weeks I go looking for new and photogenic bridges, and don’t seem to find anything much.  But now that all these great bridges have been built, and now that they are all getting older, or getting really old like this one, and are having to be kind of rebuilt ...:

The highway operator said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse.

... this could be the first of many such bridge collapses.

Oh My God.  Now I want more bridge collapses, just to be right.

On that same photowalk with GodDaughter 1, five years ago, that I mentioned yesterday, and a bit earlier than when I took yesterday’s photo, of her and her shadow and my shadow, I took these photos:

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You can see how that little mind of mine was working, can’t you?  That being one of the amusements of me taking so many photos that comes across years later.  I can now see exactly what I was thinking, in a little photo-moment, five years ago.

I encounter an interesting sculpture.  (I find that I like sculpture more and more, provided I like it of course.) Then, in the distance, I see a favourite Big Thing, in this case the Big Olympic Thing.  I line up the Big Olympic Thing up the sculpture.  I line it up again, this time including only that very recognisable top of the Big Olympic thing, and putting that right on top of the sculpture, like a handle.  Good.  Nice one.

Then I draw back, and take another shot that provides some more context, while being careful to keep the Big Olympic Thing present, to one side.  What I do not do, regrettably, is photo any sign or caption which told me about this piece of sculpture.  What is it?  Who did it?  When?  Why?  What’s it of?  There must have been some clue I could have photoed.

Happily, this is the twenty first century, and a little descriptive googling ("sculpture clasped hands” or some such thing) got me to places like this, which tell the story.  And it’s quite a story.

Sunday August 05 2018

Yes, every time I visit my friends in Fulham Road, I get out at South Kensington tube, a bit early, and I photo, and then sit on the plinth of, the Bartok statue.  Follow that link to find out why it’s there.

Context, caption, and the prettiest photo I photoed of this, this time around:

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Music is made up of melody, harmony and rhythm.  What I like most about Bartok’s music is the harmonies, of the more “beautiful” and less strident sort.  Too many instruments, too loud, or a piano on its own ditto, and he loses me.  In other words, I basically don’t like Bartok’s music that much, but I sometimes very much like the sound that it makes.  I especially like the very beginning of the Concerto For Orchestra, the Piano Concertos (especially number three), and the string quartets.  Oh, and I really like Bluebeard’s Castle, provided the singing is bearable.  I especially like the in-English CD I have of it that came attached to the BBC Music Magazine about two decades ago, in which Sally Burgess sings superbly.. Memo to self: listen to that again.  I presume that Bluebeard himself is the usual industrial drill noise that almost all such singers perpetrate for a living, but it will be worth it for Ms Burgess.

This is the recording I mean.  Click on that, and you will discover that you can listen to it too.