Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Brian Micklethwait on Why I like Cricinfo
Darren on Why I like Cricinfo
Tatyana on English is weird
Brian Micklethwait on New York construction cranes in action
Andrew Duffin on New York construction cranes in action
Friday Night SMoke on English is weird
Scott Morter on 55 Broadway
Ben on Incoming imagery from Antoine
Brian Micklethwait on Face recognition – face disguise – the age of pseudo-omniscience
Brian Micklethwait on The new US Embassy – from my roof
Most recent entries
- Are London’s cranes about to depart for a few years?
- The new Tate Modern extension from inside Blackfriars Station
- Brexit graphics
- Brilliant Brian’s Last Friday talk
- Referendum day graphics
- Big Things and viewing galleries in the Square Mile
- Why I like Cricinfo
- English is weird
- The Union Jack’s near death experience(s?)
- New York construction cranes in action
- Some thoughts on the Izzard effect
- Lioness eats camera
- An MP murdered
- A great new bridge in Iran
- Lions - Bears - Blackhawks
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Category archive: London
Usually, I do quota postings in the small hours of the morning. Today, I am doing my quota posting in the big hours of the morning, to get it out of the way before a rather busy day, at the end of which I do not want to be fretting about doing a quota posting. Although, actually, this posting has now turned into something a bit more substantial than that, and I changed the title to something more meaningful. So anyway, yes, cranes:
Ah, cranes! Those structurally perfect votes of confidence in the sky. Those cranes were snapped from the south bank of the river, looking across at The City, on the same day earlier this month that I snapped yesterday’s quota photo. What that new Moderately Big Thing is, that some of the cranes there are ministering to, I do not know, but I like how it looks, in its incomplete state.
With Brexit, will the cranes vanish for a few years, until London sorts itself out and finds itself some new business to be doing? Crexit? (You can always tell when a word has well and truly caught on, because people immediately start trying to apply the same verbal formula to other things. Brexit, verbally speaking, is the new Watergate. Frexit, Swexit, Thisgate, Thatgate, etc. etc.) I thought that the cranes were going to depart after 2008 and all that, but the money people managed to keep the plates spinning on their sticks, and London’s cranes carried on. How will it be this time?
Here is a very pessimistic piece about Britain’s prospects, for the immediately foreseeable future. Does this mean that my crane photo-archive will, in hindsight, be the capturing of a moment of the economic history of London that will now pass? If the cranes do go, how will they look when they return? When the new cranes move in, in ten years time or whenever, will cranes like those above look strangely retro, like digital cameras circa 2005?
Or, will the cranes never return, but instead be replaced by magic electric guns which fill the air with muck and sculpt a building out of the muck, 3D printing style, all in the space of an afternoon?
Taken by me earlier this month:
Blackfriars Station being the one that has its own bridge.
I’ve not yet checked out this edifice, but of course I will, Real Soon Now. Equally of course, it’s what I will be able to see from it that now excites me, rather than any of the stuff I might encounter in it. That top layer of windows looks like it has an open balcony in front of them. I hope to get out there. You can read all you want on the internet about arrangements like this, but there is no substitute for actually going there and seeing for yourself.
But, there is also the matter of other photoers to photo. They may be photoing the stuff inside. If I come across them doing this, then I will, even more of course, join in.
I found a handy little graphic – of Big Things built and Big Things soon to be built in the “Square Mile Cluster” of the City of London – in this piece:
Click to get a bigger and easier-to-read version.
As you can see, the names are all very dull and stupid. The Gherkin is called “30 St Mary Axe”, the Cheesegrater is called “122 Leadenhall Street”. The “Aviva Tower”, which will (if built) be the biggest of the lot (until a bigger one gets built), is far too big and obtrusive to go on being called the “Aviva Tower” indefinitely, by anyone except dull construction magazines terrified of their advertisers. There is also no way that the angular pointy thing (5: “52-54 Lime Street") will remain “52-54 Lime Street”. And I see that they even still calling Heron Tower the “Salesforce Tower”, which got squashed by public opinion ages ago.
Have these people learned nothing from the example of The Shard? The Shard’s owners heard people calling The Shard “The Shard” as soon as they announced it, and said, okay, that’s a name we can happily live with, we’ll call it that too. That way, there is no confusion. Everyone, even its owners, now calls The Shard The Shard. But refuse to bend with the linguistic breeze, and you end up with a building that you persist in pretending is called “34 Boring Street”, but which is really called The Dildo, or some such thing.
But the particular new tower which this article is about, now called “1 Leadenhall”, could quite well remain that, because it looks pretty unremarkable. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The fundamental purpose of the City – London, actually – is to get things done, not to look pretty.
But although unremarkable to look at, “1 Leadenhall” may prove very remarkable to look from. For here is yet another City of London Big Thing which will, assuming they mean it, have a viewing gallery at the top. The views of nearby and bigger Big Things will, I surmise, be pretty spectacular.
I actually think that they do mean it, just as they meant it with the Walkie Talkie. The City’s rulers seem to be making viewing galleries – free and public viewing galleries – at the top of new City Big Things a condition of planning permission. This is, I surmise, because they want to liven up the City at the weekend, by attracting out-of-City-ers there.
The City at the weekend is now about as exciting as the inside of a coffin. When I visited that model of the City (which at the moment is open only on Fridays and Saturdays), I stayed nearly an hour and saw only two other people there. They want to change that.
Trouble is, one of the things that gives the City at the weekend its coffinian atmosphere is its semi-darkness, on all but the brightest days. This is because of the Big Things of the City are not built with daylight in mind. They are built to create as much office space as possible, and maybe look cool from a distance, and they are now starting to cluster in a solid lump. I recently wrote about the difference between London and New York in this respect. In New York, daylight is a very big deal, and the Big Things of New York have always had to be rather further apart than these new London Big Things.
One of the more intriguing consequences of the not-now-so-very-recent (what with another one coming along) Scottish independence referendum (which happened in September 2014) was that, rather suddenly, the world (by which I really mean: I) suddenly found itself (myself) contemplating the idea of the Union Jack flag disappearing into the history books. Had Scotland gone separate, the Union Jack would surely have had to be redesigned. I would not have regretted Scotland detatching itself from England, in fact I would have voted for this if I could have. But, I would have regretted the passing of the Union Jack, if only because it is such a great design, so recognisable that it is capable of being endlessly mucked about with, while still remaining the Union Jack.
The new, non Scottish version of the Union Jack might have looked a bit like the bag on the left here, as we look:
That snap was snapped in 2015, after the Scottish referendum, but I don’t think those designs have anything to do with politics. They’re just simplified and rather dull variations on the Union Jack theme. The one on the left just happens to look a lot like the Union Jack minus the Saltire. (Saltire is the Scottish flag, right? Yes.) But what does the one on the right signify? In terms of the flags that go towards the Union Jack, it takes the blue stripes from the Saltire and turns them into a background for the red bits of the Welsh and English flags. So actually, it’s just a blue bag, with bits of red Union Jack-ish stuff on it. Maybe there was also a red one with white Union Jack-ish stuck on, to complete the red white and blue set. I might never have bothered showing the above photo here, if it hadn’t been for the Saltire subtraction angle.
I had already been snapping Union Jack snaps, since quite a while before that moment of the Union Jack’s possible moment of disappearance. I long ago added “funny things being done with the Union Jack” to my mental photo-category list, alongside such things as bald blokes taking photos, utilitarian and commonplace footbridges, taxis covered in adverts, Big Things seen from a long way away in among foreground clutter, and so forth and so on. But, since that earlier referendum, I have been taking photos of Union Jacks with particular zeal.
Here are a couple of very recent Union Jack snaps I did. The first is of some flip-flops, on sale at the Parliament end of Westminster Bridge:
I reckon it’s the cellophane that gives that its artistic effect.
And here is a London taxi wing mirror:
That taxi décor isn’t part of an advert. It is just a taxi decorated with the Union Jack.
And then, while I was ruminating on a posting along these lines, came this piece of graphic Union Jackery, from the Spectator, to decorate their decision to back the Leave campaign in the forthcoming EU referundum:
This reminded me of a picture I took in East London five years ago, of some Art:
I could continue, with yet more Union Jack snaps, but I will end with some more Brexit propaganda. Still on the flying theme, just before I took the above snap of how fabulous Britain will be and will feel if we Leave, here, taken just moments earlier, is another Artistic-type picture of how ghastly things will be and will feel if we Remain. That’s the EU there, trying and failing to take wing, because its bureaucracy is far too big and heavy and its wings far too feeble and misshapen, crushing us as it plummets to earth:
Are you thinking that there really needs to be a Union Jack on that car, to make this point even clearer? But that’s exactly point! The EU scrubs out the Union Jack. Look! The Union Jack is nowhere to be seen! The EU has totally obliterated it! What could be clearer?
Slightly more seriously, the EU’s rulers will not be happy until they have driven the Union Jack into the history books, not by breaking up Britain, but by swallowing it and turning it into either fuel for itself, or shit. The only Union they want, and want celebrated with a flag, is their own.
So I photo this guy outside Westminster Abbey who is wearing a Chicago Lions shirt:
Later I ask him what sport the Chicago Lions play. He doesn’t know, but the magic WWW in the sky knows, because it knows everything that there is to be known. Turns out the Chicago Lions play rugby. I couldn’t find any Chicago Lions shirts looking like that one, that colour. But I could find no other Chicago sports team called that, so that must be it.
In the course of googling I also came across some Lion statues in Chicago, and further news of how these Lion statues were made to wear Chicago Bears helmets (American football), and Chicago Blackhawks helmets (ice hockey):
Such is the world. Such is Chicago. Such is the internet.
Indeed. Just after snapping that WWWhite Van (see below) in Lower Marsh, on Saturday, I then photoed, in the same road a bit further on with a new name (The Cut) another means of transport of interest, in the form of this:
I have not seen an electric car being charged before, in the flesh, as it were. Not in London, not anywhere else. As you can see, this electric car originated in Brighton, the San Francisco of England.
I am sure all my libertarian friends would want to tell me that such cars only exist because of Big Green Blob giving them Money, and that in a real market, they would not exist.
Photoed by me yesterday, in Lower Marsh:
How soon before you will be able to take a smartphone photo of such a vehicle, and then, on your screen, press on the Twitter or Facebook squares, or on the website, and get there. Presumably, with that squiggly square, you can already do something like this.
That would certainly be an “intelligent advertising” improvement on what I have heard threats of, which is that adverts will change when they see you coming, to something they believe you are interested in. But I don’t believe that will happen any time soon, because how would you stop other people seeing what the advert thinks you are interested in? Leaving it up to you to investigate further, if you want to, will be much more civilised.
To you, yes, I hope that you had one, but actually what I’m saying is: I did.
England came belting back against Sri Lanka at Lords. After sampling the London weather last night, I had a feeling that might happen. It was not bright and sunny, more overcast and sweaty. It felt like swing bowler weather, which made SL’s reply yesterday afternoon (to England’s 416) of 162-1 rather strange. Dropped catches apparently. Well, this morning, order was restored and SL are now 218-6. Woakes, luckless yesterday, got a wicket with his first ball. England now look likely winners of that series 3-0. The longer the series goes on, and the more the Lankans get acclimatised (following seriously inadequate practising games), the more it counts beating them. The first game, where SL collapsed twice, meant nothing, I reckon. I’ve been following the score here.
Deep thanks to Michael Vaughan, who mentioned on one of the bits of cricket commentary I listened to that England were also playing Australia. At rugby. Aus 28 Eng 39. Must have been some game, and according to the BBC live updates, it was.
And before all that, I even managed a quick (they’re often the best) Samizdata posting, about something odd I heard on the radio, about the EU.
Here is one of the funner pictures I took while out and about last night, this one taken at the Parliament end of Whitehall:
Great reflections in her sunglasses, right? On the left, as we look, the two devices she is holding, and on the right, you can just see a tiny Big Ben. Is that red thing she is holding a charger?
Plus an elephant.
The onward march of mobile phones into photography continues apace.
I haven’t always been blogging here as early as I’d like to in recent days, but today, I did it.
If you had as good a morning as I did, lucky you.
Indeed, with cranes and with intervening roof clutter in the foreground:
One of the oddities of the internet is that if you google new us embassy london, you get lots of Big Boxy Things, all looking different from each other. By which I mean, it’s the same box, but the architectural wrapping is different. Basically what you are looking at is all the different guesses or early suggestions about how it was going to look or how people thought it ought to look, which then just hang about for the next few years. Until such time as the Big Boxy Thing is finished, at which point huge numbers of new photos of it will drown out the guesses and the failed propaganda. This makes it hard to know, now, when the Big Boxy Thing is still being constructed, if what you are seeing is the Big Boxy Thing in question, or some other Big Boxy Thing.
But, in among all the imaginings, I found actual photos of the new Embassy as it actually is, in the process of being built, and the above photo is definitely of the actual US Embassy. No doubt about it. More views from the same spot, above my head as I write this, here.
What is happening is that Spook Alley, which starts near Waterloo Station, continues via all those James Bond enterprises in anonymous Big Boxy Things, and then takes in the new MI6 building, is now being added to with an American strip of boxes of comparable scale, further up the river on the south side. This is the Special Relationship in steel and concrete form, and the idea that this relationship is now cooling is visibly absurd. It has never been more solid. A whole new district of London is being created, basically for spying on terrorists, and on anyone else that the spooks take against.
As the rest of London expands down river, towards places like the new Container Port way off to the east, governmental London moves in the other direction, up river, west.
Well, not quite a decade. I’ve been photoing photoers since well before this, but the first of these particular snaps was taken in July 2007. They illustrate that I have been concerning myself with the photoing of photoers while contriving, in one way or another, not to photo their faces, for a long while now. When I started taking photos of photoers, face recognition was a mere idea, used by implausibly attractive detectives on the telly but not yet a real thing in the real world. Now, with the social media and ubiquitous digital photography, faces (not just big faces but faces in crowds) can be dated and placed and identified, of everyone, and very soon by everyone.
I just picked out a few photos that I like (although, it soon became a bit more than a few). I like them because the pose is fun (6.2, 6.4), or because they’re strongly back-lit (1.1, 3.4), or because the screen is so clearly visible (6.1), or because the faces of photoers are hidden by bubbles (7.3), or by a coat (7.1), or by an orange bag with the Eiffel Tower on it (that one is the one snap of these that was not taken in London (that’s Paris, Feb 2012)), or because they’re photoing through some bars (in this case at the top of the Monument (1.3)), or because they were just too far away (in one of the pods of The Wheel and on the other side of the river (5.3)), or because they are simply facing the other way or holding their cameras (or their arms or their hands holding their cameras (1,2, 1.4, 4.1, 4.3, 5.1, 6.4, 7.2, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4)) in front of their faces. My favourite face-blocking device here is the blue balloon (2.1) saying visit Mexico. The balloon goes very nicely with the Testicle (click and look on the blue square below if you are baffled). Happy times:
The most recent of these was taken when I was photoing that model of the City of London (8.4). Someone else was also.
After assembling these thirty two snaps, I did more browsing, and I soon realised that I could easily have found another thirty two more, and more, many more, of equal fun-ness.
Like with everything else, good photography comes from doing the same thing again and again.
Here is a picture of the Lower Manhattan end of New York, the bit with the tallest skyscrapers, topped off in 2001 by the Twin Towers:
And here is another picture of the exact same scene, taken fifteen years later in 2016, this time topped off with the single replacement tower for the Twin Towers:
The guy who took these pictures was interested in which photograph is photographically superior. The first one was taken with old-school film and the second is digital.
To me the two pictures look nearly identical. Their technical identicality does not interest me. But their architectural identicality, aside from the Twin Towers alteration, is something that I find fascinating.
Skyscrapers have exploded all over the world in the last decade and a half. New York is one of the world’s great cities. And yet, here are two photos of New York taken at opposite ends of the last fifteen years, and aside from the rather dramatic change imposed upon the place by terrorism, nothing at all seems to have changed.
Things were not changing in 2001 and they aren’t changing now. Consider the cranes in these pictures. Basically, barring a few microsopically invisible ones, there are no cranes.
I don’t know why this is, but it strikes me as an extremely remarkable circumstance.
It’s not that you aren’t allowed to build towers in New York any longer, unless you are replacing something like the Twin Towers. In the part of New York a bit further to the north, just to the south of Central Park, there is an explosion of skyscrapers under way. Skyscrapers that are very tall, but very thin.
Here is a picture of how these new New York Thin Things look like they will look:
People have long feared that skyscrapers would make all big cities the world over look alike. But the shape of individual skyscrapers varies from city to city, and does the shape of skyscraper clusters as a whole, and as does the variations in the heights of buildings. A city where the newest and tallest towers are a lot taller than the older buildings is one sort of city. A city where new towers are only slightly taller than old ones looks very different.
New York’s newest towers are, as I say, these tall Thin Things, a lot taller than their surroundings. In London, the typical new tower is a much fatter looking Thing, the extreme recent case being the Walkie Talkie which is big on the ground compared to its height, and which then bulges outwards as it goes upwards.
Interestingly, the Walkie Talkie is the work of Rafael Vinoly, as is this new Thin Thing in New York. (You can just see the top of this new Thin Thing in the second of the two Lower Manhattan photos above, bottom left, in the foreground. That’s the one big change in these photos aside from the Twin Towers having been replaced.) It’s like Vinoly wants to do his bit to make great cities look distinct and recognisable, rather than them all looking the same. Good for him.
I constantly walk to St James’s Park tube, and often past it. Seldom do I actually notice what is above it, namely the until recently) headquarters of London Underground, 55 Broadway. This evening, on my way to a Libertarian Home meeting, I did notice this extraordinary, Mussolinian edifice:
According to Wikipedia, when 55 Broadway was completed in the late nineteen twenties, it was the tallest office building in London.
Libertarian Home needs an intro for Mark Littlewood, for a publication they’re doing. Here is a quick profile of Littlewood by me, which I hope may be of some use to LH.
Mark Littlewood is the Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs. There was a time, not so long ago, when the IEA seemed doomed to obscurity or worse. But Littlewood has put in place and now leads a strong team of free market activists, strong on both the academic and media fronts, thus raising the profile of free market ideas both now and in the longer term future.
That may suffice, but here is more, if needed, of a slightly more personal sort.
Of particular note is Littlewood’s appointment of Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, in the area of student and young academic outreach. (Stephen Davies addressed Libertarian Home not long after his IEA appointment.)
When Littlewood was first appointed, I was not optimistic about the IEA, but then I heard him speak about his new job, and I became much more hopeful about the IEA’s future. That optimism has not abated.
Hope that helps and is not too late.
Yes, quota photo time. I have spent the day doing ... other things, and am in that familiar tizz of having to shove up any old thing before going to bed. So here is another snap, to add to the one I earlier showed of all those bridges, of that model of the City of London, in the City of London, which I visited last Saturday:
The point of this picture being that it doesn’t just show what is there now. It shows what it is intended will soon be built.
The biggest of those Big Things there is, I presume, this.
Isn’t it terrible how horrible modern skyscrapers are ruining the view of the Gherkin.
As nudged by Simon Gibbs yesterday, I did indeed make my way to Trafalgar Square to check out Kenny and his Brexit chalk-proclamation.
The photos I sent to Libertarian Home yesterday evening were strictly utilitarian, to tell LH exactly what Kenny had written. Read the entire thing there.
Here, on the other hand, are some pictures which give more of an idea of how it looked, what the atmosphere was, and what Kenny himself looks like:
The atmosphere was low-key, actually. There were no scenes or arguments, although I did hear the occasional “not going to read it all because it says Out”, as people walked away. Others, however, did stop and read. Most significant, I would guess, were those with mobile phones who were, unlike me, maybe passing it on with twenty-first century immediacy. (I had to wait until I got home before I could send off my photos.)
I had to wait a while for Kenny to finish his efforts. I got there before 3pm, and it wasn’t until just after 5pm that he was done. And he started at 10am.
But it was worth the wait, and there was plenty else in Trafalgar Square to divert me, and to take photos of. But photos like that can wait. First things first, and that means Kenny.