Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Food and drink

Friday October 20 2017

Today, I was thinking, what with it being Friday: What can I put here about cats or other creatures that would be of interest?  But instead of looking for something along those lines, I was listening to a video conversation between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, about the sorry state of the humanities departments of American universities.  I can’t remember why or how, but I was.  And twenty four and a half minutes into this, I listened in astonishment as Peterson suddenly started talking, fascinatingly, about zebras.

Why do zebras look the way they do, so very black and and so very white, and so very stripey?

This has long puzzled me.  The arch enemy of the zebra is the lion, and the lions are impeccably camouflaged.  Their coats are the same colour as the veldt, or whatever it is, that the zebras roam about on and that the lions hunt the zebras on, and so the zebras don’t see the lions coming.  But the zebras, with their garish black and white plumage, are nothing at all like the colour of the land they live on.  What gives?  Why the lurid and fantastically visible stripes?

Today I learned the answer to this question.

The answer is: When lions hunt zebras, they do this by deciding on just the one zebra that they are going to hunt, and they concentrate entirely on that one zebra.  Eventually, the chosen zebra is exhausted, and the lions catch it and kill it.

And how do zebras respond, evolutionarily speaking?  Answer: By becoming extremely hard to distinguish from each other.  Their very stripey stripes do exactly this.  The result of that is that although the lions try to hunt just the one zebra, thereby exhausting it and killing it, they instead keep getting confused about exactly which zebra is the one they are trying to hunt.  And the result of that is that instead of hunting one zebra to its death, they hunt half a dozen zebras, not to any of their deaths, and go home without their dinner.

Some scientists who were studying zebra plumage did what turned out to be a rather cruel experiment which proved this.  They squirted some colour onto one of the zebras in a zebra herd.  The lions, confident now that they would not be confused about which zebra they were hunting, proceeded to hunt that one marked zebra to its inevitable death.  Without such marking out, they couldn’t tell which zebra was which.  With such marking, hunting success followed, every time.  Every time they chose the marked and hence easily distinguishable zebra.

I did not know this.

Peterson’s point was that American humanities professors are like this.  They all have totally crazy, yet totally similar, opinions.  That way, their enemies can’t fixate on one of them and destroy him.  Or something.  In this version of the zebra stripes story, Peterson is saying that people in general are like zebras.  But I really didn’t care about that.  It was the zebras and their stripes that interested me.

I love the internet.

Monday October 09 2017

Yesterday GodDaughter One invited me to join her for one of her Moves , from Stonebridge Lock, up the River Lee Navigation, to Enfield.  The boaters of London have to keep moving.  They aren’t allowed to stay in the one spot for ever, which I bet thins down the numbers.  Plus, it makes sure that the canals have lots of canals boats chugging about on them for the likes of me to photo.  It’s quite a subtle rule, I think.

I took many photos.  Here are some that commemorate the life and work of Alfie Saggs, the lock keeper of Pickett’s Lock, which was renamed “Alfie’s Lock” in 2015:

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Alfie Saggs is well known to London’s canal boaters, but the story was all new to me.  Read about Alfie Saggs here.  Apparently Alfie liked Bounty Bars, and so Bounty Bars were how the boaters expressed their appreciation of his work:

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It’s good that this celebration of his life’s work was something that Alfie Saggs himself was able to enjoy, and that it didn’t happen only when he died, just three weeks ago:

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I photoed a lot of signs yesterday.  Signs are very evocative and very informative.  When I browse through directories of past wanderings, I am always glad of signs.  They tell me exactly where I was, the way that mere landscape and waterways cannot with nearly so much certainty.

Saturday October 07 2017

From Michael J:

Is there anything better than sitting in a bar in one of the prime selfie taking spots in the universe?

Well, maybe I can think of a few things, but I get the picture.  To be exact, I got this picture:

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But where might this be?  I scrutinised the “properties” of this photo, in particular some numbers with the words “latitude” and “longitude” next to them.  So far as I could work it out, this was somewhere on the island of … Momix?  No, not Momix.  The island of: Rhodes.  But, that could easily be out by several thousand miles, given Michael J’s travelling habits and my analytical abilities.

Meanwhile, the most exotic place I’ve been to lately was the place where this photo was taken, by my friend Adriana:

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How cool is that?  And I’m not talking about the fact that this is ice cream.  This was my pudding when I feasted with Adriana and her Plus One here.  The ceilings were so far away you could hardly see them.  There were oil paintings beyond counting, often with no labels to identify the personages in them, presumably because People Like Us all know who they are without having to be told.  Or, they are all so posh they don’t care.

I left my stuff, including my camera, at the front desk, photography not being permitted.  Fair enough.  Don’t want any oiks casing the joint.  But her photoing an ice cream wafer, Adriana said, wouldn’t make waves.  Besides which, these days, how can you tell if someone is taking a photo, if all they are doing is waving a smartphone.

Friday September 22 2017

Today I had a taste of what my life would be if I had the Sky TV cricket channel.  (It would be over.) I watched Surrey play Somerset on the live feed from the Oval which comes complete with the BBC’s sound commentary. I had all sorts of plans for today, but managed to get very little else of consequence done.

Surrey spent their day trying to ensure that they avoided all possibility of being relegated from Division One of the County Championship.  When they finally managed to defeat Somerset, they found themselves lying second in Division One.  Division One contains eight teams, two of which will be relegated, and it’s all rather close, apart from Essex, who have already won, and Warks, who have already been relegated.  So, a very strange day, but ultimately a very good one.

So, quota photo time:

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Yes, it’s a still life, with condiments instead of old school food in old school containers.  Little Big Things, you might say.  Photoed five years ago, in a cafe only a very short walk away from the Oval.

Friday September 15 2017

Friday here at BMdotcom is Cats and Other Creatures Day.  So if I am out and about on a Friday, I always keep an eye out for relevant sights.  Sights like this, which I spotted in Putney this afternoon.

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Potted Horse?  As in: horse meat?

Well, no:

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Spotted Horse, as in: horse with spots.  A pub.

Picture of the entire front of the Spotted Horse:

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I like how it’s than the buildings on each side are bigger.  This being, presumably, because the pub is some kind of preserved building from olden times, and as such impervious to the rising price of land and hence the rising pressure continuously to destroy and replace with something ever taller.

One day, the price of the land upon which the Spotted Horse rests will be such that a skyscraper will be demanded.  At this point, I would like to think that the Spotted Horse will mutate into the lowest two floors of this new skyscraper.  Why not?  The skyscraper will pay for all the confusion involved in contriving this.  Just because amusingly antiquated buildings need to become very tall buildings doesn’t mean they have to be destroyed and replaced entirely by modernity, especially when you consider how tedious modernity can be at ground level, a place where architectural antiquity excels.  No, put the modernity on top of the antiquity, on stilts.

Monday August 28 2017

I like to photo buses with adverts all over them.  I consider the elaborate graphics involved to be of aesthetic interest.

Buses like this one, photoed in Tottenham Court Road on the same afternoon, just over a year ago, that I photoed the dfs Union Jack door that I just added to the posting below:

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Okay very pretty, but do what I did.  Take a closer look:

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What intrigues me about that is how it points up the contrasting reputations of the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie.  The Gherkin is clearly visible there.  But the Walkie Talkie is deranged by that clutch of ventilation holes, or whatever they are.  The advertising classes don’t do things like this by accident.  They like Lord Foster of Gherkin, but they do not like Rafael Vinoly of Walkie Talkie, and the same probably applies to most other people who know both of these Starchitects.  (I like both of them.) My sense is that Vinoly is reckoned to be too much the entrepreneur, too much the profit maximising businessman, too bothered with making buildings that make money, the way (so I hear it) the Walkie Talkie does and the Gherkin does not.  Vinoly, I surmise, is the Richart Seifert of our time, but on a global scale.

This is not the kind of thing you can prove very easily, and maybe I’m reading too much into a meaningless piece of graphics.

Well, I’m tired, I’ve had a complicated day attempting other things, unsuccessfully, and this is what you are getting.  Also, there’s a really good test match going on.

Sunday August 27 2017

The first I photoed in Victoria Station, while waiting for a train, to go to visit some friends in south London and partake of a barbecue, which is why I have so little time to be doing a posting here:

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I like the contrast between the sun-drenched colours of the flag with the mostly monochromatic background.

And here is a Union Jack I photoed earlier, about a fortnight ago, in a shop window near where I live:

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In that box, designer spectacles.  Although, I didn’t find many Union Jacks at the William Morris London bit of the William Morris website.

I really like how Union Jacks now come in lots of different colours.

Are you supposed to put Union Jacks with capital letters?  I do this because it feels right to me, but maybe that’s wrong.

Google, however, now tells me that the rest of the world does this too.

LATER, another Union Jack, Tottenham Court Road, June 2016:

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I remember when dfs stood for dashed fine show.  Except that no, I don’t, because it didn’t.  But, it could have.  And should have.

Tuesday August 22 2017

About a week ago or less, I found myself in the vicinity of The Wheel.  The light was very good, with lots of sunshine and lots of lurid looking clouds.  So, I took photos.

Below are a clutch of The Wheel related photos.  My opinion of how to photo The Wheel is that you should combine The Wheel with other things.  Like graphic designs featuring The Wheel which are in the vicinity of The Wheel.  It’s the old modified cliché routine.

In this photo clutch, however, I do include one very old school photo of The Wheel.  It’s the photo I took of a postcard (1.2), which features The Wheel.  And look what the postcard calls The Wheel.  It calls it The Wheel: “The Wheel”.  None of this “London Eye” nonsense.  Do large numbers of people in other parts of the world call The Wheel The Wheel?  I do hope so.  And I hope that this habit conquers London.

The next four photos, after the postcard (1.3, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3) are all of The Wheel reflected in a tourist crap shop.  And then 3.1 is of The Wheel reflected in a place, next door, that sells sandwiches.

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I like how I totally lined up the circular blue logo with The Wheel reflection, in 2.3.  Could I also have done something similar with the circular things in 2.1 and 2.2, in the latter case an actual picture of The Wheel.  I rather think that I tried, but couldn’t do that.  But, memo to self, return to this enticing spot, on a nice day, and see what I can do.

This is what I like about taking photos in London, rather than in some foreign spot that I am only going to be in once.  If, upon reflection back home, I suspect that I might have been able to do some of the photos better, I can, in London, go back to try to do this.

Tuesday August 08 2017

Earlier this evening I went to the Two Chairmen to hear my friend Tom Burroughes speak, to Libertarian Home, about the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

I took this photo of Tom in action:

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It troubles me how much Photoshop(clone)ping I had to do to make this photo look good, taken as it was with my new camera.  But I think it now does look okay.  I particularly like how I used a nearby beer glass to smudge out most of the head of the man in the foreground.

At Samizdata, Tom goes by the name of Johnathan Pearce.  Here is a recent piece he did there, about the very subject he was speaking about this evening.  And Tom will give this subject another airing at my home, on September 29th.  It’s an important subject, I think.

Saturday August 05 2017

Yes, there were quite a few photoers up there yesterday.  But not as many as I think I was expecting.  Amazing to relate, most of the people there seemed just to be experiencing the view while they were looking at it.  And talking to one another.  And having drinks.  I know, weird.

But there were a few normal people there, concentrating on taking photos, and here are some of the ones I photoed:

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In last night’s posting about this expedition, I mentioned the reflections I was getting from the windows.  I kind of think that this doesn’t matter with these particular photos, which is why I am showing them here so soon.  In the foreground there are photoers, and in the background there is what there was in the background, including reflections, and sometimes even some rather pretty reflections, and also a lot of architectural detail, top of the Shard style.  These photos therefore require no elaborate thought, or cropping, or preemptive cringe commentary saying: this is interesting because of what you can see out there or down there, despite the damn reflections which I’m really sorry about.

I chose the above photos because I thought they were nice photos.  I wasn’t bothered about what cameras were involved.  So, it is significant that eight out of nine of the photos feature mobile phones rather than old school, dedicated, specialised, digital cameras.  The only exception is 3.2.

I hear it everywhere I go.  The cameras on mobile phones get better and better.

Will my next camera also be a mobile phone?

Friday July 28 2017

Where were you when England won the World Cup? I’m talking about the women’s cricket World Cup that England won, a week ago tomorrow?  It looked like rain might wreck the occasion, but they got the full hundred overs of cricket and a grandstand finish.

While all that drama was unfolding, I was, as already reported, out in the countryside to see and to hear GodDaughter 2 and her pals performing a Mozart opera.  The journey to this opera required me to arrive at Alton Station, in time for another pal to collect me from there and drive me the final few miles.

Given the choice between using public transport to get to an unfamiliar destination just in time, or getting there far too early, I greatly prefer the latter procedure.  Last Saturday, the trains of the south of England lived down to their current low reputation, with postponements all over the place.  Trainline had told me to change at Wimbledon, but at Vauxhall they told me to change at Clapham Junction, and it all took quite a bit longer than it should have.  But I had left so much time to spare that I still had over an hour to kill at Alton Station.

Google maps had informed me that a short walk away from Alton Station there is a quite large pond, which I checked out.  It is the home of numerous birds, including these ones:

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I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever set eyes on non-baby but nevertheless non-adult swans.  I have certainly never noticed such birds before.  Are they really that colour, like they’ve been mucking about in a coal cellar?  It would seem so.  Cameras can lie through their teeth these days, but my one isn’t lying, I can assure you.  That is what they looked like.

I always photo signs on days like these, and when I got home I learned that in refusing to share any of the food I had brought with me, I was also following local instructions.  As the big sign said, you can help care for the pond by:

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And the sign went on:

(Uncontrolled feeding leads to over-population of birds, too many for the pond to support, as well as water pollution from droppings and rats feeding on uneaten bread).

So, good on me for resisiting the temptation.

Monday June 26 2017

Today was the first day ever of day-night county cricket, played with a pink ball instead of a red ball.  By the time it finished it was late, and I had been neglecting this blog all day, having been following the fortunes of Surrey instead, fortunes which turned out to be pretty good.

So, here is a quota photo, instead of a proper blog posting:

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That’s GodDaughter 2’s Dad, who was in London recently, photoing, as you can see quite clearly for yourselves, this.

I find The Laughing Halibut’s chips delicious, but after I have eaten them I tend to get a belly ache.  A sort of gastronomic hangover.  But the Laughing Halibut (I also like that there seems to be only one) is on the way back to my home from a frequently-used-by-me nearby tube station, and every few weeks, especially when ravenous after a long photo-walk in faraway places, I succumb.

Tuesday June 20 2017

Why do people get so angry about other people who photo their food before eating it?

Here is a pizza that I photoed, before eating it, when we all went out to dinner following GD2’s end of third year singing recital:

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And very tasty it was too.  Thank you Da Mario‘s, if that’s how you say it.

Does the very thought of me taking the above photo, in a restaurant, annoy you?  Why?  Seriously, why?  By this I don’t mean: stop feeling annoyed you fool.  By why I mean why.  What is this feeling?

I’m not sure I can prove it, but I am rather sure that a similarly small but definite spasm of annoyance is felt when the same people who disapprove of food photoing observe other photoers using selfie sticks.

Yes, I think I have it.  What food photoing and selfie sticks have in common, beyond the obvious fact that both involve photoing, is that both practices are very visible.  If they bother you, they are hard to ignore, like a slight but irregular noise when you are trying to get to sleep, or people shouting near you in an already noisy (but predictably so and thus ignorably so) tube train.

The fact of these practices being so visible is what amplifies the annoyance.

Getting back to that food photoing thing in particular, why be annoyed?

Could it be that photography has now become something very different in recent years, but that some people need to do some catching up?  The marginal cost of the next photo you take is now: zero.  The marginal cost of the next phone communication you send: also zero.  So, taking and sending a photo of what you are about to eat is of no more consequence than just telling someone you are about to consume a rather good pizza, over the phone, with mere words.  A pizza photo says, quickly, what is in it, what sort of pizza it is, how big, and so forth, just as you might if you were talking about it.  A photo thrown into the conversation is just illustrated chit-chat.

But photography, traditionally, has tended to be a much more slow, solemn and artistic and expensive thing.  And the more artistic and cultured you are, or think that you are, the more you will know this.  Do these damn people think that every damn food photo they commit and emit is some sort of eighteenth century Dutch still life painting?

Well, it kind of is, or kind of can be.  But basically, no.  If you think they think this, you’ll think them very silly.  But, they don’t think this.  What they are doing is not Big Art, even if at its best casual photoing can resemble Big Art.  What they are doing with their food photos is small talk.

Could that be something to do with it?

Also in play are the more ignoble feelings aroused by others (a) enjoying themselves, (b) not caring who knows it, and (c) not caring, in particular, about you and any moans you might have about what they are doing and how they are drawing attention to themselves.  You just know that if you said to them: Excuse me, would you mind not doing that? - they’d say something along the lines of: yes we would mind not doing that, get stuffed.  Eat you own damn food and stop complaining about us photoing ours, you idiot.  And they’d be right.  And you’d know it.

Monday June 12 2017

Today I was part of a impressively numerous gang of friends and family who attended GodDaughter 2’s end of third year recital, at the Royal College of Music.

The RCM, seen from outside the Royal Albert Hall, looks like this:

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This photo was taken from just beyond the statue of Prince Albert outside the Royal Albert Hall, to the south of it.  By most standards, this statue is pretty imposing, but it is a miniature compared to the vastly bigger Royal Albert Memorial, which is to the north, the other side of Kensington Road, in Hyde Park.

After GD2’s recital, we went out and celebrated.  We ate.  We drank.  We photoed each other.  I photoed us photoing each other.  And I also took a few dozen photos in and around the RCM and its various Albert memorials, both before and after the recital.  More of that may follow (although I promise nothing).

For now, I’ll just say that although it is very hard to be objective about a person whom I have known since she was about four or some such tiny age, GD2, who is a mezzo-soprano, really seems like she is going to be the real deal.  Her voice gets stronger and more expressive, and her command of it more impressive, every time I hear her.

GD2 herself is not in the slightest bit strange, but when singing, she does strange, wonderfully.  Her performances of two of the songs from Day Turned Into Night by Iain Bell were particularly fine.  These songs feature Queen Victoria describing the life and death of – you’ve guessed it – Prince Albert.  The two that GD2 sang are very strange indeed.

Friday May 12 2017

On that wander-around earlier this week, with GD2, there were, as related yesterday, lots of luxury objects to photo.  And I did try, but mostly I failed.  This was partly because luxury objects tend to be sparkly, and sparkly is hard to photo successfully.  But mostly, I suspect, it was just that I’m not used to photoing luxury objects and am in general not very good at it.

There were sparkly animals to photo, such as a bracelet with a tiger on it, and a silver horse rolling about on its back.  But they didn’t come out that well.

There were a couple of incongruously painted pandas (perpetrated by this guy), which I also photoed.

And there was a Bentley Mulsanne parked out in the street looking very good (especially its front lights), the effect as splendidly dignified as that of the two pandas were incoherent, offputting and pointless.  More about that Bentley, maybe, some other time.

Maybe even some more about the pandas, once I have thought of something to say about them other than that I didn’t like them.  I mean, someone obviously does.  Why?

In the end, the luxury item that I remember from that day with the greatest pleasure was this one:

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The trick with buying luxuries is to buy a category of luxury that you can tolerate being too expensive.  A luxury car would break my bank account completely.  A luxury bracelet would be a non trivial hit, even if I wanted one.  But a luxury ice cream, in a tub that someone has obviously “designed” (to look somewhat like an old Penguin paperback in this instance), that I could happily stretch to.

Tastes differ in such matters, but I found this icecream really tasty.  It was purchased in the cafe at the top of John Lewis’s in Oxford Street.  After we had consumed our various luxury foods and drinks we climbed to the floor above, to the roof garden, where the view of London is not as spectacular as some of the views of this kind, but very satisfying if you are a fan of roof clutter, as I am, especially with the weather being like it was.  Again: luxury.  This time not overpriced at all.