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Category archive: London

Monday September 24 2018

Maybe “art” is putting it a bit strongly, but nevertheless, I do really like this photo ...:

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… which I took in the summer of 2015, somewhere in the City of London.  The directory I found this in is called “Looking4BroadgateTower”, so that tells you roughly where I was.

BMdotcom-wise, this photo has so many boxes ticked.

- First things first: cranes.  In this case, crane towers.  BMmmmmm.

- Reinforcing rods, sticking out the top of the lump like vegetation.  Reinforcement: insufficiently sung heroism of modernity.

- A crane tower shadow, on …

- … that material they shove over …

- … scaffolding.

- That monochrome thing that happens during sunsets.  And – who can say? - maybe even during sunrises.

- The way that sunlight hits crane towers and just lights them up, which I so often try to get and so seldom manage to get.

- Lots of horizontals and verticals, made possible not by Photoshop(clone)ing but by the excellent zoom lens on my nearly-but-actually-not-SLR camera, with its one brilliant super-zoomy lens.

So, lots to like there.  But what and where was this?  This is the kind of thing I like to know.

Luckily, I took informational photos, as well as arty photos like that above.  Always, when out taking photos like the above, take lots of photos which are not for art, but for information about that art.  I need to keep telling myself, because often I fail to do this.

I fail, that is to say, to take photos like this ...:

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… which scores about zero for artistic impression, but which tells me what all that art in the first photo above actually was.

In the above (information) photo we see the same crane towers and the same lump, but viewed side on.  It’s definitely the same stuff.

There’s even a name and a website to be seen, if you crop it, and then expand it to be 500 pixels across, like this:

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So, there we have it.  It’s the earlier stages of this.  Once you have the words to describe what you want to learn about, the internet suddenly starts to work.

This being this:

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My best guess is that the lump of art in the first photo in this posting is somewhere in the middle of the more complicated computerised Thing on the right.

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:

imageimageimageimageimage

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.

Wednesday September 19 2018

Yesterday I was in Victoria Station, and as I emerged from it into … that mess of activity outside the front entrance, I noticed that the light seemed particularly appealing.  At first what got my attention was the combined effect of the mess in the foreground, in the dark, and the assorted Medium Sized Things in the background, totally missmatched and just jambed down together in the London style, all illuminated.  (See photos 1.1 and 1.2 below.)

But then, I found myself zeroing in, yet again, on Pavlova.  What got me noticing her was that, finally, I seemed to have found the right moment to photo her with that big concrete lump that calls itself “Portland House” behind her.  I have done this a lot, but it has never worked until now.  This time, there was a shadow behind Pavlova, while Pavlova herself, and the dwarfed-by-modernity theatre on the top of which Pavlova dances, were both picked out by the light, a combination of circumstances I have never before encountered, or if I did I didn’t notice.

I took many photos of this effect.  Partly because I can’t decide which one I like best, and partly because I think these photos look good when small, here are 3x3=9 of them:

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Maybe the Wikipedia entry for Portland House does say who originally designed this unlovely edifice, but if it does, I couldn’t find that.  Wikipedia does note, however, that Portland House is a miniature rip-off of the Pan Am Building in New York, now called something else.

Further googling got me to a piece by Mike Higginbottom entitled Pan-Am’s London sibling.  He rather likes it.  Plus, he name checks the now pretty much forgotten architect of said sibling: Howard Fairbairn & Partners.  Modern Movement hulks by big name modernists sometimes have a certain in-your-face impact and memorability about them.  But this hulk has always seemed to me to epitomise Modern Movementism at its dreariest.  It’s not even “brutal”, just big, bland and boring.  I greatly prefer Nova, the red diagonalised Medium Sized Thing nearby, which is also to be seen in photos 1.1 and 1.2 above.

Tuesday September 18 2018

And no, I don’t mean reinforcements for an army.  I mean the kind of reinforcements that end up buried in concrete.

Like these ones:

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All six of these photos also feature one of the more impressive scaffolding arrays near me just now.  The art of scaffolding and the art of creating reinforcements for structural concrete have much in common.  Both involve putting together lots of bits of metal.  Both need to result in a structure that stays put and does not collapse.  Both look pretty to people like me.

But there are also big differences.  Scaffolding is very visible, and it remains visible for the duration of its working existence.  Scaffolding thus proclaims itself to the world, by its very existence.  That we live in a golden age of scaffolding is obvious to all of us, whether we like this fact or hate it.

Also, scaffolding rather quickly punishes those who erect it, if they don’t do it right.  While creating scaffolding, scaffolders make use of the scaffolding they have just been constructing, and they are their own first users.  They thus have a literally inbuilt incentive to do their work well.  And if they don’t, it is not that hard for others to spot this.  Bad scaffolding wobbles.  Such are my surmises about scaffolding.

Reinforcements for concrete are something else again.  By the time they go to work, doing the job they were built for, everyone concerned had better be damn sure that they have done their work well.  But, if they haven’t, the disastrous consequences of that bad work may take years to happen, and even then to be controversial.  Who is to say exactly what caused a building to collapse?  And if the building collapses rather catastrophically, it is liable to destroy a lot of the evidence of what exactly happened, and why.  Investigating such catastrophes being a whole separate job in itself.  So, getting these reinforcements right, with an inbuilt regime of testing and inspection and supervision, all managed by morally upright people whose declarations of confidence in what they have been inspecting can be relied upon, is a whole distinct industry.

But, this is an industry whose products, by their nature, end up being invisible.  We all rely on such work being done correctly, not just “structurally” but also in a morally correct manner.  Yet, we mostly never see this work, only its indirect results.

So, I hereby I celebrate the work, morally as well as merely technically good, that goes into the making of reinforcements for concrete.  I salute the good men and true who make these (I think) beautiful objects, and who ensure that they perform faithfully.  Their moral as well as technical excellence is all part of why I consider such reinforcements to be things of beauty.

I did some googling to try to determine exactly what reinforcements like those in my photos are used for.  The lorry says R. SWAIN AND SONS on it.  But they are hauliers, not makers of concrete reinforcements.  The nearest I got to an answer was this photo, of objects just like those on my lorry, with this verbiage attached: “Prefabricated Piling Cages Made of Reinforced Bars On Site”.  Prefabricated Piling cages.  Piling sounds to me like foundations.  (Yes.) The reinforcing has to be shoved down a hole in one go.  It can’t be constructed bit by bit, in the hole.  It either gets assembled beforehand on site, or, it gets assembled in a factory and taken to the site by lorry, as above.

The reinforcing that a structure needs when it is above ground, on the other hand, can be assembled on site, and I’m guessing that this is what usually happens.

Just guessing, you understand.  My first guess actually was: for an above ground structure, until I came upon the photo I just linked to, and not foundations.  But, what do I know?

Saturday September 15 2018

I was summoned to Chateau Samizdata (which is in South Kensington these days) for lunch today, which meant that when I walked past that Bartok statue at lunchtime today, the light was behind me, rather than in front of me and behind Bartok.

So I was able to have another go at photoing him:

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But with rather mixed results.  The change in lighting made a lot less difference than I had been hoping.

I spent the late afternoon and the evening (a) doing stuff at home, and (b) keeping track of the climaxes of two competitions, this one, which was won by pianist Eric Lu, and this one, which was won by the Worcestershire cricket team.  Which means Worcestershire have had a mixed season, having also been relegated from Division One of the County Championship.  It was like them winning the FA cup but also getting relegated from the Premier League.  However, getting relegated from Division One of the Country Championship makes far less financial difference than dropping out of the Premier League.  So Worcester are probably now pretty happy.  Counties doing well in one format but badly in another is quite frequent.  They all say that, of course, they want to win everything.  But in reality, they prioritise this and neglect that.

Tonight, Radio 3 played the last two Leeds Piano Competition concerto performances, the three others having been played last night.  I will be checking out the performance of Beethoven 1 from last night, because, while they were waiting for them to pick the various prize winners, they played part of a chamber music performance by the guy who had played Beethoven 1, which sounded excellent.  Also, this guy came second in the overall competition, so he’s pretty good.

Tonight’s Beethoven 4, from winner Lu, was excellent, albeit somewhat more subdued than I think Beethoven had in mind when he composed this piece.  Lu’s was a very “private” performance of what was actually, I think, written as a rather public piece (about private feelings).  But that’s very much a matter of (my) opinion.  Given what Lu was doing, he did it very well.  Besides which, who would want all concerto performances to sound the same?  Beethoven might have been surprised by Lu’s delicate and subtle performance, but that doesn’t mean he’d have minded.  On the contrary, he would probably be amazed and delighted that people were still playing the thing at all.

Tonight’s other concerto, the Schumann, was similar in artistic intention to Lu’s Beethoven 4, but to my ear it involved a few too many wrong notes.  The Radio 3 commentators didn’t mention these wrong notes, but I don’t think I imagined them.  I think they chose to ignore them.

Bartok wrote three Piano Concertos, each very fine in their contrasting ways.  None of these were played in the final of the Leeds Piano Competition.

LATER: I’ve just been listening to another county game, just started on Sept 18th, and I realise that the piece I linked to about Worcester getting relegated was dated 2015.  Theoretically, they could still avoid relegation this year.  But they’re not going to.  They’ve just been bowled out for 94 by Essex, and they are about thirty points shy of safety, with Yorks and Lancs both having to cock it up big time for them to escape.  As it is, Worcs and Lancs both look doomed to the trop.  But, in theory, Worcs are still in with a chance of avoiding this.

I am very sorry to have misled you, in the unlikely event that I did, and that you care.

Friday September 14 2018

Last Sunday morning I was trying to have a good old lie-in, but instead I got woken up early by a giant anteater.

Yes.  Having been woken up, I looked out my window towards where all the din seemed to be coming from, and this was the scene I beheld:

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At first I thought the culprit might be that refuse lorry in the foreground, but it soon because clear that the noise had been coming from that red lorry with the crane-like thing attached to it.

Let’s move in closer:

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By the time this photo had been photoed, the big red lorry had lifted its nozzle out of that hole in the pavement on the right there, which I subsequently learned had been dug in connection with electric cables.  Evidently there was muck in the hole which needed to be got out, in a hurry.  Sometimes technology really sucks.

I was intrigued, and at first greatly puzzled, by picture on the side of the red lorry, and it took me quite a while to work it out.  It is a giant anteater.  It looks like at least two creatures, pointing in opposite directions, but the “other creature” is, or so I believe, the giant anteater’s giant tail.  That tail being a lot of what makes the anteater a giant.

Wikipedia tells us what an actual giant anteater looks like:

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I can see why an anteater would have a very long nose.  But why the enormous tail?  Balance, perhaps?  The answer offered here says balance, and also maybe to cover itself when sleeping.  It seems to be mixed up with the anteater having a low body temperature, the tail being there partly to keep heat out.  So, perhaps also some kind of fan?  I couldn’t find a confident answer.

As for the gizmo deployed at the back of the lorry, note how this time, a bendy arm with a tube in it does make use of a bendy tube, unlike that machine for squirting concrete that I mentioned here earlier.  Guess: not so much pressure this time, not least because the material itself being sucked up (this time) is not so heavy and bulky.  Some pressure, but not so much.

That phone number of the side of the lorry got me to the enterprise that supplied this equipment.  But follow that link and you’ll find no mention of any red lorries with anteaters on the side.  By which I mean, I didn’t.

Thursday September 13 2018

Today I was in Bermondsey, seeing a man about a blog, and instead of going straight home again, I got out at Southwark and walked to Parliament Square.  Then I tubed to Victoria, and did some quite strenuous shopping.  All that, plus I am getting old.  So, now I am now knackered, and am in need of an early night..

Here, picked out almost at random, is a photo I took on my travels, in Lower Marsh.

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When photoing this photo, I of course had no idea that part of the blurry crane in the background would be visible, less blurrily, at a weird angle, in the street lamp.  Like I always say, my camera has better eyesight than I do, and what with me (see above) getting old, that gap has been growing.

London street lamps are rather fine, I think.  In the middle of London.  Not so sure about the outskirts.

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.

Tuesday September 11 2018

If you step outside Sloane Square tube station, and immediately look to your left, you see this:

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This is one of those phenomena which doesn’t photo very informatively.  By which I mean that if you are there, it is far easier to see what is going on.  So let me now tell you what is going on.  This is the inside of a new building, but covered up, while they’re completing the building, with a sheet.  This sheet has another building painted on it.  And there is light coming at the sheet from behind.  When what is behind the sheet completely blocks out light, we see the picture on the surface of the sheet.  But when light comes at us from beyond the sheet, the picture on the sheet is overwhelmed, and we observe either light, or any shapes (in this case steel structure and scaffolding) in silhouette.

What I like about this effect is both its temorariness, and the fact that it ends up looking so much more interesting that it was intended to look.  The idea was that we would only see the picture on the sheet.  What we actually see is a whole lot more diverting.

Here is another photo I took of the same thing, this time including a bit more context:

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It’s a little more clear, in that photo, that there is a picture on a surface as well as all kinds of excitements behind it, on account of the sheet consisting of surfaces at an angle to one another.

Best of all, you can now see that one of the excitements behind the sheet - to be more exact, one of the structures behind the sheet - is a crane.

Monday September 10 2018

If someone is doing this ...:

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... is it okay to photo them and stick the photo up on the internet, somewhere like here?  I feel that it is okay, because, albeit in a very good way, the guy is making something of a spectacle of himself.  He is doing something very individual, in public, in a way that people are bound to notice.  Therefore, he doesn’t mind them noticing, or he wouldn’t do it.  Therefore, he won’t mind me noticing it.

Behind our self-transporter, we can just about make out the towers of Battersea Power Station.  Well, I can, because I know that’s what it is, because that’s where I took the above photo, this afternoon.  At the time, I was busy photoing the road, because in my opinion it is a very interesting road.  For reasons which I may, or may not, explain, here, some other time.

Meanwhile, I miss Transport Blog.

Sunday September 09 2018

Photoed by me, this afternoon, just outside Acton Central London Overground station:

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Time was when I would have completely trusted a blog posting like this one, which says good things about this enterprise.  Now I merely trust this blog posting enough to link to it, and enough to hope that what it says is true.  I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t, apart from the fact it’s on the internet.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can you be sure that I am for real?  I am, but I would say that, wouldn’t i?

Saturday September 08 2018

Earlier in the week, on my way to St James’s Park tube, and again on my way back home from St James’s Park tube, I photoed what I described to Google as a “concrete pump”.

This concrete pump was helping to build a clutch of apartment blocks where the old New Scotland Yard used to be, before New Scotland Yard moved to a new New Scotland Yard, back where the original Scotland Yard used once to be.

I got enough images to suggest that a “concrete pump” is indeed what this extraordinary contraption is, but not enough to suggest that I had named the contraption correctly, using the preferred words of those who deploy it.

Nevertheless, enjoy.  I did, especially the close-ups of the joints.

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All this, just to be able to squirt concrete from a lorry into a hole.  (I’m guessing, from the invisibility of building action behind all the solid fences, that his concrete was for the foundations.  This being where concrete, as opposed to steel on its own, still seems to be essential.) And with a big long arm like that one, with all its joints, I’m guessing it can reach all sorts of complicated and out-of-the-way spots.  (If you guess that I do a lot of guessing when I see something like this, then you guess right.)

There must be a reason why they don’t use a flexible tube, but have to make do with a rigid tube, but with the occasional rotating joint.  So elaborate are those joints that they end up looking biological rather than merely mechanical.  So, as with the previous posting, also about technology rather than biology, I have categorised this posting as, among other things, “other creatures”.  (I’ve also added “sculpture” to the category list.  Does regular sculpture come any better than this?  Sometimes maybe, but not very often.)

The concrete itself must be a marvel of blending and general wonderfulness.  Able to travel as a near-liquid along this elaborate pipe, under (guess) great pressure (another guess: that’s why the pipe has to be made of metal rather than of something bendier), but then able, at exactly the right time, to solidify in the deep cylindrical holes into which it is squirted.  At which point it has to stay solid for ever.  (Is something added, at the critical moment, to make it solidify?)

There is much that is very wrong with the world.  This sort of stuff is what is very right with the world.

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.

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.

Friday August 31 2018

Today I had in mind to tell you about the dragons that adorn the Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens, which is the Pagoda from the top of which you can see the Big Things of London.

But I spent today paying attention to cricket, and fretting about whether enough people would attend my Brian’s Last Friday Meeting, that happened earlier this evening, so I did not manage to say anything here about the above mentioned dragons.  Too complicated.

Now that it is late evening, and the meeting has successfully concluded (thank you Vera Kichanova, terrific), I only have time and energy to tell you about these two particular dragons, which are inflated and made of plastic:

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What these inflated plastic dragons tell you is that Kew Gardens, in addition to being a place of Outstanding Scientific Interest, is also what is now called a Visitor Attraction.  A place, in other words, to which children are glad to go to rather than rebellious about being made to go.  And there is nothing like friendly inflated plastic dragons with goofy smiles on their faces to make children feel welcome.

I, meanwhile, have no particular objection to visiting a Visitor Attraction.  Before I had a digital camera, I used to be snobbish about going to places which other people in large numbers also liked.  But since acquiring my first digital camera (I am now on about my seventh) and since acquiring the hobby of photoing other digital photoers, I find that my former distaste for Visitor Attractions has melted away.  The more people there are at a particular spot (and if they can bring their children without their children objecting, there will be more people) the more chance there is that there will be people photoing, and that makes me happy.

So: hurrah for the inflated plastic dragons of Kew Gardens.  Which I also quite like myself.