Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Andy on Aerobots
Rob Fisher on Is 2007 old enough?
Rob Fisher on The Leaning Stonehenge Tour Bus of Salisbury
Rob Fisher on Miniature photographic fakery
Michael Jennings on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Michael Jennings on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Brian Micklethwait on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Rob Fisher on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Rob Fisher on The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Sarren on Another place to look out over London from
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- At the top of the Monument - in 2012 and in 2007
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- Pete Comley talking about inflation on Friday February 27th
- Is 2007 old enough?
- January newspaper pages
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- Peter Thiel on striking a balance between optimism and pessimism and on how failure is overrated
- The Bayeux Tapestry small enough to fit in this blog
- True hearts and warm hands
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Category archive: Friends
Today was the first first day of spring, so to speak. By this I mean that it was the first day of 2015 which made in clear that winter would eventually end and that summer would eventually arrive. Cool, but blue sky and sunshine. Meanwhile, winter may soon resume but spring at least is now officially on its way, and will happen.
As a technically rather incompetent photographer, heavily dependent on good light, I rejoice. The season of rootling through the archives is nearly over. The season of adding to the archives is getting started.
And, also today, I went to a funeral, in Salisbury, which is about an hour and half out of London by train, in a south westerly direction. The last time I ventured out of London into that part of England that is not-London for a ceremony, the weather was similarly excellent.
As soon as we stepped out of Salisbury station, strange and exotic sights presented themselves, such as this Stonehenge Tour Bus:
But there was something odd about it. It appeared to be leaning over somewhat, away from us. When I got round to the front of it, I saw that appearances had not deceived. It was leaning over:
How can a bus do that? Was the suspension malfunctioning? Was the Stonehenge Bus leaning over on purpose, in order to help a wheelchair bound passenger to embark? Was it partly parked on the pavement, and was a suspension computer overcompensating? Was there a kink in the road, downwards, next to the pavement?
I couldn’t hang about to investigate or to ask. We had a funeral to get to. But, odd.
One of the many pleasures of visiting my friends in Quimper, i.e. Goddaughter 2 and her family, is their cat, who is called Caesar. Is? Alas: was. When I said goodbye to Caesar before coming back home last January, I feared that I’d not be seeing him again, and so it has proved, all too quickly. A few days ago his faltering liver finally gave out completely, and to spare him more grief and pain he was put to sleep.
I took no photos of Caesar when I visited for the New Year, but took several last August, when I last visited. Here is one of those pictures:
I took that at the same time I took the two photos of Caesar in this earlier posting. If you try, you can imagine from that picture that Caesar has only two legs and is standing upright. Not that you’d want to.
He is and will continue to be much missed.
Yes, I spent the whole of today telling myself that it was only Saturday but feeling it to be Sunday.
For starters, the first of this year’s Six Nations games happened yesterday, on Friday. I don’t remember that happening lately. Isn’t the first 6N game usually on Saturday? And then today, I went to a birthday party at Rob Fisher’s home, in the afternoon, out in the deep suburbs. Which was nice, but that’s something I associate with a Sunday rather than a Saturday. It was the quite early start and the quite early finish that did it. Saturday jollifications usually seem to start later and end later. I’m not complaining about the timing, you understand, just saying that it messed with my head.
I was telling myself this all day long, yet still, when I was in the train back to London, I was thinking that I needed to buy some milk and some bread, but reckoning that I’d be too late for any of the big supermarkets, which are the ones which have the cheapest milk and the sort of bread I like, on account of these big supermarkets closing early, what with today being a Sunday.
Not that I mind any of this. It’s been a great weekend so far, and there is still a whole day of it left. England beat Wales in that 6N game last night, and today, Spurs beat Arsenal. Spurs are my favourite football team, but I’m not a proper Spurs fan, because if Arsenal are involved but if Spurs aren’t, I like Arsenal to win. Your real Spurs fan wants Arsenal thrashed, by Sporting Beelzebub if that’s who Arsenal are playing.
It actually is now Sunday, and I am cheating on the timing of this posting, by a short while. The day ends when I got to bed is my rule, and I make the rules here. What are you going to do? Cancel your subscription?
Yes, the talk this evening went well, I think. Lots of people said they enjoyed it, and they didn’t have to do that. They could have said, as my mother said about things I did that she didn’t like, that it was “interesting”. But they didn’t say it was interesting. They said they enjoyed it. I’m guessing they really did. I did.
However, in the course of the talk, I alluded to a clever question asked by Ayumi Meegan, after a talk given by Richard Carey at my home a while back, and instead of calling here “Ayumi”, I called her “Mayumi”. Twice. She being present this evening, and me identifying her, by name, wrongly. Not good. I hope that a correction can be added, as and when any video of the talk appears at Libertarian Home. I am grateful to meetings organiser and Libertarian Home Supremo (and video man) Simon Gibbs for telling me that I had made this mistake, twice, so that I was able to apologise to Ayumi immediately. Ayumi Ayumi Ayumi.
Also, I hope Simon will add the name of David Mitchell, the comedian to whom I alluded in my talk while failing to remember his name, at all. I didn’t even get that wrong. I mentioned a clever short video lecture by Mitchell that was mentioned by Rob Fisher in a comment on this posting here.
No doubt if I ever do get to watch this performance on video, I will learn of even more serious blunders in what I said, but those will do to be getting on with.
Meanwhile, for the benefit of anyone who heard the talk and is now checking out this blog, hello, and here is something I quite like to do here, quite often, which is to post quota photos. These being photos put up here simply to ensure that something gets posted here, each day, as it almost always does. I mentioned this rule of mine in the course of the talk. Although, I suppose these particular photos aren’t really quota photos, because without them there would still be the ramblings above here today.
Whatever,these particular photos are of three of London’s Big Things, namely the BT Tower, the Gherkin and (when it was still under construction) the Cheesegrater:
The twist here is that all these Big Things are in a state of photographic blurriness. The focus is instead on mere things, in the foreground. Yet, the Big Things are still entirely recognisable, which is one of the key qualifications for being a Big Thing in the first place. For the same reason, Big Things are instantly recognisable from a great distance.
Click on these little pictures to get them a lot bigger, and also a lot blurrier, even though all they are is the same thing only bigger.
My Last Friday meeting last night went, from where I sat, very well. The speaker (Professor Tim Evans) gave a bravura performance. Not everyone was convinced, and said so, but that’s fine. That’s a feature, not a bug.
Best all, the exact right number of people attended. The room was full. Every seat was taken. Nobody had to stand.
From my personal point of view, the rearranging I did to the furniture set-up turned out beautifully. From when they resumed at the start of 2013 until last December, these meetings have suffered from the presence of a sort of sideboard thingy, that sticks out from the wall of CDs, to your right as you step into the room. From this sideboard, drinks and nibbles have been served. But this didn’t work. Most people couldn’t easily reach for sustenance during the meeting, and the sideboard broke the circle of seating, in a most ugly and unsatisfactory way.
But last night, food and drink, rather than being stuck away at the side, were instead dispensed from a central table, made of three big plank-like objects bolted together for the evening. It worked much better, because everyone could then just reach out for their junk food and junk drink, instead of either pining for it in frustration or else traversing the room.
And, the intrusive sideboard thingy was replaced with what God had always intended should be there instead, more CD shelves:
Details of this sort may seem very foolish, but they are what the craft of hospitality consists of.
Another personal highlight for me was the wine I found at Sainsbury’s in the afternoon. The only way it could have been improved upon, for my purposes, would have been if it had come from Tesco.
My wine-savvy guests laughed, but were also curious. Yes, I’ll try a glass, they said, one after another. And the verdict? “I’ve tasted worse!” One of them said that in a loud voice, and the others concurred.
The cheapest wine usually costs a minimum of £4 in London, but this was £2.50. Don’t you just love that it came in a plastic bottle (photoed by me afterwards, empty and with no top).
The attenders were as fine a bunch as I and my speaker have ever managed to assemble, being greatly improved by the presence in our midst of Goddaughter 2 and a couple of her Royal College of Music friends, a soprano and a baritone. Word is that they had a good time.
I also personally enjoyed both the beginning and the end of the evening. I always like it when the first person to arrive is a particular friend, rather than someone I only half know and am fretting about impressing, or failing to impress. And last night the first person to arrive was a friend.
And, I like it when the last few people are also friends, or at least people I am not in any way anxious to be rid of. Last night, two especially agreeable people (they know who they were) were the last to leave, but not before we had discussed the whole business of the scarcity of sociability, and the consequent possibility that I might, rather suddenly, wish to be alone. The point is, knowing that I could tell them this without causing offence, I found that I did not want to. My sociability was running very low, but an ordeal that you can switch off at any moment can often cease entirely from being an ordeal, and so it was last night. Instead, we had an extremely interesting conversation. They left in time to catch the last train, having absolutely not outstayed their welcome.
So all in all, everything went very well, for me personally.
Will I have anything to say about the speaker, Tim Evans, and what he actually said? Well, on that, time will tell. I’m still thinking about that.
My thanks to Tony, for his and his family’s hospitality during the last week and more, and for this photo, which he took in Quimper recently, and kindly emailed to me a few days ago. I couldn’t then pay attention to it, but it was waiting for me when I got home:
What this shows is how Quimper Cathedral looked before they put two big(ger) spikes on the top of it, in the nineteenth century, thus making it look how it looks now.
I can find nothing about this transformation on the internet, let alone any repro of this actual map. Odd. Odd, that is, unless it is all there and I merely couldn’t find it. That would not be odd at all.
The gap between my eyesight and the eyesight of my camera grows and grows with the passing of the years, as my eyes inexorably dim and as my cameras inexorably improve. Even I can regularly manage quite decent shots with my latest camera. As a result, I become ever more immobilised by having to choose good ones from the enormous piles of decent shots I often come back with, after a day out.
Yesterday was a bit different. I went to the home of Michael Jennings for a Christmas Day lunch, picture 1.1 being the most striking thing I saw from out of his front window. The day was lovely, but the light, though wonderful, was fast fading, so Michael and our mutual lady friend and I went out for a short (by my photographic standards) walk to take advantage of it. Which meant that I took, by my standards, only a few pictures. Which made it easier to choose and stick up a few half decent ones.
Picture 1.2 is my favourite of these. Thank God for London’s religious diversity. Much as I loath what Islam says in its holy scriptures, and much as I am critical of people who go through the motions of worshipping these writings, either because they truly believe what those writings say (very wicked), or because they don’t but think that they it doesn’t matter or that they must (also wicked – yes, I mean you, Moderate Muslims – stop saying that you believe stuff that you also say that you don’t believe), I do like that having Muslims in London keeps shops open and taxis running on days like Christmas Day. Michael fixed a couple of Uber taxi rides for me, and both the drivers had Muslim sounding names.
I don’t know what the church is in 2.1 but it looks pretty behind that leafless tree. And Tower Bridge always looks pretty to me.
Re those two Tower Bridge shots, I’ve always liked how digital cameras do the opposite of the human eye, and turn urban skies bluer and brighter as they actually get darker. It’s all those orange-coloured artificial lights, burning relatively brighter as the sun sinks, together with the actual darkness on the ground, impinging upon the Automatic setting.
Like half of London, it would seem, I’ve been suffering with a cough and a cold and a headache, finding it hard to sleep. For some reason it all gets worse at night, especially the headache. Why?
So a couple of incoming emails from Simon Gibbs, concerning some of the pictures I took at that Cost of Living Debate which he organised last October, really cheered me up.
The first email said that one of the pictures I had taken, of one of the speakers, had enabled Simon to flag up, on YouTube, that speaker’s videoed performance, more attractively than might otherwise have been possible. A photo was attached…:
... which Simon described thus:
One of your digital photos on my TV, via the Virgin Media YouTube app.
Then, very soon after that email, another one, longer:
I managed to make some more appear.
The video quality is okay, but the camera was pointing statically at the whole panel. You zoomed in on individual speakers while in action (or at rest), then I was able to crop and add titles and the resulting thumbnail is better than any individual frame of the video.
Here “better” means “better able to encourage someone to click from a list of videos through to the video itself”, meaning they will stand out from the crowd.
And another picture was attached:
I am delighted that my photoing obsession has assisted Simon in his much more strenuous activities. And I got in for free.
Which reminds me that I should long ago have done my own selection of snaps from that evening, and stuck them up here. I may yet do this, and maybe quite soon.
Click to get them bigger. If you want to recycle these photos, please feel free, with or without gratitude to me. Email me (see top left where it says “Contact") if you’d like any of them bigger.
When I got to that ASI Christmas Party the other night, I was already in a grumpy mood, on account of not being allowed to bring three Opera Babes to the party. That’s right. The Adam Smith Institute didn’t have room for three glamorous young women, two of them at the Royal College of Music (Goddaughter 2 and her friend) and one of them (another friend of Goddaughter 2) who was auditioning for the Royal College of Music (having already been accepted last year by the Guildhall). I had already arranged to bring Goddaughter 2, but the ASI having spurned her two glamorous Opera Babe friends, GD2 not unreasonably preferred to be with them. I don’t mean that the ASI said: Opera Babes? - No thanks. I mean that they didn’t even allow me to say that they were Opera Babes, so oversubscribed were they. Or so she said. The ASI lady put their names on the subs bench list in case of cancellations, but your guests only get on the pitch if the ASI tells you so beforehand, and I heard nothing.
So instead I went to the ASI Christmas Party with Goddaughter 2’s glamorous elder sister. When I got there, it was clear that although there were many persons present, there was most definitely room for three more Opera Babes. But, too many mostly very non-operatic males of the species had already signed up to be there, and they needed room to stand around in all-male groups and shout their opinions at each other.
So there I was at the ASI Christmas Party feeling grumpy, looking around the room and recognising hardly anyone, and feeling bad about having dragged GD2’s sister to this ghastly do and being so grumpy about it, and for about the first half hour of being there, I continued to be grumpy. Three things, however, cheered me up.
First, I bumped into someone I did know, Anton Howes. And it turns out that he has a new blog. How very last decade, I said, but really, I was truly delighted to hear this, and started to feel that the evening was not going to be a total write-off after all. I had actually learned something of genuine use and interest to me. Cheer-me-up Thing Number One.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Two, I got my camera out. I think I saw some other person taking photos and I thought: time for me to do some soul stealing. Was this uncouth? Probably. Would I look like an old prick? Presumably. But I was feeling like an uncouth old prick anyway, so out came the camera anyway. And immediately I cheered up. Suddenly, people cheered up when I approached them, and ceased from only talking about what they were talking about and instead started presenting themselves to my camera in a way that would make them look approximately as good as they were capable of looking. And, if they ignored me, well, that’s fine, because when people ignore you and just carry on enjoying themselves, that, if you are a photographer rather than a human being, is good.
Cheer-me-up Thing Number Three: Eamonn Butler saw me taking photos, and approached. Oh dear. “Brian, could you please stop being such an uncouth old prick? And if you do insist on photoing, could you please make a point of not photoing him, or him, or her.” Paranoid rubbish like that flashed up in my brain in between Eamonn being clearly about to say something and Eamonn actually starting to say it. And what did he say? He said: “Could you please send us a few of your best photos?” or words to that effect. Hah! I was now an officially designated photographer. I was someone. Instead of me fretting about not knowing anyone (and about not being allowed to be The Bloke Who Brought The Opera Babes), everyone else had to feel bad that they didn’t know me. Hurrah!
And actually, when I bustled my way through the throng some more, snap snap snapping, it turned out that actually I did know quite a few of those present.
Here we have, I think, another impact of digital photography. Digital photography cheers up people like me when we go to parties. But, shame I couldn’t photo the Opera Babes.
All of which began life as a mere intro to me showing you lots of the photos I actually took at this do. But, people who might google their way to - or maybe even be steered with a link towards - such photos won’t be wanting a long ramble attached to them about how I felt before and during the taking of them. So, I’ll stick them up in a separate posting. This I promise.
Defence Minister Michael Fallon addresses the throng at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party, earlier this evening:
More to follow.
Today I went walkabout in the City of London with my friend Gus, father of Goddaughter 1. This evening I found, for the first time, this short video interview at the Arup (his long time employer) website, done with Gus in 2010.
Here are four vertical favourite-photos I took:
On the left, Gus shows me a magazine picture of the Cheesegrater, taken on a much nicer day than the day, cold and windy, that we were having to put up with today. Next in line is one of those Big Things seen through a gap in the foreground shots, but with a difference. This time, there are two Big Things involved. There is a sliver of Walkie-Talkie on the right, and then way beyond it, you can see the Shard. Then, we see Gus joke-propping-up the miniature Lego Gherkin that is to be seen next to the regular Gherkin. On the right, Gus looks up at something or other, this being the best snap I did of him.
Now for all my favourite horizontals.
I’m too tired after all that walking about in the cold to say much about these pictures, but see in particular 2.1, which is, I’m pretty sure, some of the bolts, a few of which recently disintegrated. Now they are having to check all such bolts, and there are a lot.
1.1: Mmmm, cranes. Grim day, well done my recently acquired camera, good in low light conditions.
1.2: Canon Street tube. Designed like a bridge, said Gus, ace bridge designer, because under it there are tube lines which it is built on top of, like a bridge. This is the building I asked about in an earlier posting here.
1.3: I included this because of the sign saying “all inquiries”. All? You know what they mean, but there is fun to be had on the phone with this sign.
2.2: A Gherkin detail, is there because I said, when I saw it, that looks rather plastic. And guess what, it is plastic.
2.4: Shows us the Lego Gherkin in front of the Actual Gherkin
3.2: A more fun picture of Gus, featuring also: me, in the right hand purple circle.
3.3, 3.4, 4.1: All the Walkie-Talkie.
4.4: For scaring pigeons, something you seldom see from above. I saw this particular cluster of pigeon scarers while descending a staircase at Liverpool Street station. That last was the very last photo I took.
When I emerged from Pimlico tube, near my home, I was amazed at how dark it had become, at a quarter to four in the afternoon. Like I say, my new camera really did the business today.
Sorry for all the cock-ups and mispronts in this posting. I’m knackered and am now going to bed.
Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.
I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them. He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo. So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough. (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:
The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland. Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?
Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing. Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre. Warsaw Uprising. (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century. Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause. With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.
Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education. She had a point. Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days. But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?
See also this, recently at Samizdata.
On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list. A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.
Yes, me times 3:
Plus Goddaughter 2 and her mum, plus a pot plant, times 2. Click for the bigger picture.
Taken in an eatery where they have mirrors on every wall, to make a small place feel bigger. The eatery being the tuk tuk in Old Compton Street. Cheap. Cheerful. Recommended.
This evening I attended a young friend’s fortieth birthday party. (You know you are old when people aged forty are young.) And I took lots of photos. Before doing this, I asked our young hostess (the one who is now aged forty) if she would like me to take photos, or would actually prefer me not to. She said please do take photos, so I did, in abundance. The best of them will be my birthday present to her.
As usual, my first look at them when I got home was a big disappointment. The lighting was difficult and the background was a lot easier to focus on than dimly lit faces tend to be, so I have huge numbers of snaps of perfectly detailed backgrounds with blurry faces in front of them. But the best of them will, I reckon, come out okay. Most are not suitable for blogging, because private, but here is a crowd scene showing what the place looked like:
As you can see, an ecclesiastical setting. The Cloister Cafe of St Bartholomew the Great, which is near the Barbican.
That photo is exactly as it came out of my camera. No beefing up of the dark bits, which means that you can see what a tricky place it was to photo in. I just took lots of pictures, in the hope that some would turn out okay, and I think that this is what happened. There were many failures, but a few successes. Once I get to work with my Photoshop clone, there may be more successes than it now appears.
Maybe I should have used flash, as my camera spent the entire evening urging me to to do. But, I hate hate hate flash. It is appallingly antisocial, and the results usually look terrible, as in: “Hey, that was taken with flash, wasn’t it?” and “Doesn’t your software have a tool to removing red-eye?” It probably does, but … uurrgghh!!