Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Esteban on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Brian Micklethwait on Zooming in on the workers
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Brian Micklethwait on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Rob Fisher on Zooming in on the workers
Rob Fisher on Big Things on Boris Bikes
Rob Fisher on David Pierce on what it's like using an electric scooter
Prudy on Skyscraper covered in Gothic sculpture proposed for Manhattan
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Most recent entries
- A still life and a cat cushion in Kentish Town
- A Japanese torpedo bomber that could use some zoom
- A good time of the year
- 148 to Burgess Park
- A Big Thing and a Much Bigger Thing – on a not-black cab
- Another way to photo my meetings
- Quota Pavlova
- The first Brian’s Friday of the year tomorrow evening
- Walkie Talkie looking not that huge
- David Pierce on what it’s like using an electric scooter
- Shard behind the Tower of London (reprise)
- Big Things on Boris Bikes
- Two bits for Samizdata and a weird bridge in Poole
- Big Things having orgasms
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Food and drink
Yes, I have struggled over the years to get good photos of what my meetings are like. The problem typically is that I can never get everyone into the same picture, and the pictures look like about half as many people attended as actually did. Since the number wasn’t that huge to start with, that’s not what you want.
Here is a different approach:
That was the scene today following last night’s meeting, me having done almost zero tidying up to that point, bar hoovering up a few crisps. Now, Imagine that space with as many people sitting in it as you can fit in. That was what it was like last night.
If you reckon that the “table” in the middle looks like it could be improved upon, you are not wrong. There was a disaster when it collapsed last night, luckily not during the Tim Evans talk, and some fruit juice hit the carpet, along with lots of potato crisps. And it was then only imperfectly reassembled. More work is needed on that front. But it was a great evening, partly because of the table collapsing, because that sort of thing adds to the anecdotage factor. But mostly because it was an excellent talk, and because a very classy group of people who came to hear it. Including a baby, who was very welcome.
Talking of unsatisfactory tables, I wasn’t feeling so good myself today. My sleep last night was full of weird dreams, which I can still remember bits of, which is not normal. Plus, I have a new blender, and this morning’s concoction was terrible. The trouble with most vegetables is that they don’t taste of anything. Or, they taste rather nasty. Thank goodness for cherry tomatoes. But, all my current stash of cherry tomatoes got consumed last night by all the people that you can’t see in the picture.
This is weird. When I did a posting at Samizdata called My 2015 in pictures, I intended to include a picture I took of one of my meetings last year, the one at which Aiden Gregg spoke. But, although I talked about it, I didn’t actually include the picture. Rather humiliatingly, nobody noticed, or if they did notice, they didn’t care, or if they did care, not enough to complain.
So here is that picture:
I have also added it to that Samizdata posting, which absolutely nobody at all will notice. But, get it right, eh?
I think I got this picture by standing on a chair.
I mention all this now because I have another of these meetings, the first of this year, tomorrow evening. Speaker: Professor Tim Evans (also mentioned in that Samizdata posting), talking about Jeremy Corbyn and all that. Turnout looks like being just right, with the room comfortably as opposed to uncomfortably full. Luckily the seating arrangements have been improving.
Here, for good measure, is the photo I took of Tim when he gave his Inaugural Professional Lecture at Middlesex University, last summer, and which was also included in that Samizdata posting:
Not being accustomed to the ways of Academe, that get-up makes Tim look, to me, like he is in a very trad production of Wagner’s Mastersingers.
Today, went to the top of the Westminster Cathedral tower, again, to check out whether I could see the Wembley Arch. I could. Just. But, then went to a Christian Michel evening. Rob Waller speaking. Very good. But, me now rather drunk. So, cannot discuss Wembley Arch. Instead, here is a picture of west London and its cranes, from the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral:
Hope you like it. Sleep well. I will.
I make it eight cranes.
My life, in this digital century, has contained quite a lot of wonderful expeditions which I never got around to mentioning here. Take the trip that I and G(od)D(aughter) 1 made to Beckton Sewage Works, on September 21st 2013. The only time I mentioned this here, it would seem, was in this posting, where I mentioned that I otherwise did not mention it.
So, to go some way towards correcting that, here is a picture of some birds that I took that day:
You want to know why London contains so many birds? Sewage processing, that’s why. Birds love that. The Beckton Sewage Works is one great big open air bird canteen.
And here is a picture of a sign that I took, which explains that a huge new sewage tunnel was in the process of being constructed, at the time of our visit:
More about that here:
The 75-metre deep Beckton overflow shaft is the entry point for the Lee Tunnel, a £635million project just as ambitious as the more highly-publicised Crossrail. Over the past five years, engineers have built a 6km tunnel stretching from Beckton up to Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, east London. The Lee Tunnel will help prevent more than 16 million tons of sewage from overflowing into the River Lee each year by capturing it and taking it down to Beckton. The sewage treatment works itself is being upgraded and expanded by 60 per cent to enable it to deal with the increased volume.
And the Lee Tunnel is just the first phase of the even more ambitious Thames Tideway Tunnel, a 25km tunnel that will handle sewage from Acton in west London through to Abbey Mills in the east. The Thames Tideway Tunnel will deal with the 34 most polluting overflow points along the Thames. Work on the £4.2billion project, known popularly as the London super sewer, starts in earnest in 2017 with engineers pulling the chain, so to speak, in 2023.
And here is another photo I took that day, which I include in this posting because I like it:
Behind that fence may, or may not, be activity associated with the digging of the big tunnel. But, I think it was.
What this ...
...this being “facadism” …
… tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.
But I realise now that this is not quite right.
The key point is not that modernism has triumphed indoors, but that indoors, we are not at its mercy. We can decide about whether to keep it. We control indoors, with furniture, wallpaper, carpets, etc. If we want ancientism indoors, in the living room, say, or in the bedroom, we can unleash it at will, and there is not a damn thing that any interfering architect can do about it. Therefore, we do not mind if indoors is totally modern, when we move in. We can change it, just as much (or as little) as we want to.
Outdoors, however, we cannot just change things at will to suit our personal preferences. Therefore, if a large number of us want some ancientism to go alongside all the newly arriving modernism, we have to bully the architects and planners into allowing it, or even into doing some more. We did, and we did.
Modernism has definitely triumphed in the kitchen. In the kitchen, a place which did not exist in its current and highly mechanised form in ancientist times, it makes such total sense to have smooth white rectangles everywhere. Kitchen cupboards are for storing stuff, not for showing stuff off. You want the cupboard and fridge doors to be a vertical note pads for stick-on notes, not sculptures. You do not want your work work surfaces and wall areas and cupboard doors in the kitchen to be elaborately decorated like the outsides of ancientist buildings, or shaped like curved like car bonnets. You want them flat, to do things on and put things on.
Above all, you want everything easily cleanable. What if someone bangs into a saucepan and spreads slurpy food everywhere. In the kitchen, you want clean, clear, white surfaces, like outdoor Modern Movement modernism. You want horizontality and verticality, whiteness and cleanness, because you want convenience and cleanliness. The kitchen is a machine for cooking in.
Here is a picture I took when I recently visited my brother’s new home. It is a new home in more ways than one. It is new for him, and it has just been built. This is what the kitchen looks like:
Okay, once again, zero points for artistic impression. But look at what is being photoed. The Bauhaus is stationary in its happy, plain white, rigidly rectangular modernistical grave. This was what buildings were all going to look like. They don’t, thank goodness. But this is what most new kitchens now look like.
I wish I had also photoed the outside of the building where Pete lives. This is rather kitchy and cutesy, not at all purely “modern”, although you can clearly tell that it’s recent.
As with the work done in kitchens, so for the work done in other places. Modernism prevails wherever work is done, of the sort done by “workers”, work that involves doing stuff, to stuff. (When the work involves creating appearances, setting a particular tone, all bets are off.) The world of work is the world in which modernism evolved. When we want beauty and pleasure (and particular sorts of appearances or tones), modernism is just part of the mix. It is kept in its place.
I spent a lot of today doing an elaborate Samizdata posting with twelve photos in it, and now I am doing the same here. Most of these ones are just of the I Just Like It sort.
Whether I have the time and energy left after posting the photos to say something about them remains to be seen. Anyway, here they are, one for each month, in chronological order:
Okay, let’s see if I can rattle through what they are, insofar as it isn’t obvious.
1.1 was taken outside Quimper (which is in Brittany) Cathedral, where they were selling that sugary stuff on a stick called I can’t remember what. I stalked the guy for ever, until he finally obliged by sticking his sugary stuff on a stick in front of his face. Never clocked me, I swear. Although, when others stalk me when I’m photoing, I never notice them.
1.2 is the amazing coffee making equipment owned by the friend also featured in these earlier pictures.
1.3 is the men’s toilet in the Lord Palmerston pub, near Suicide Bridge, photoed soon after I took those.
2.1 explains itself. 2.2 is Anna Pavlova, reflected in the House of Fraser building in Victoria. 2.3 was taken on the Millenium Footbridge.
3.1 is 240 Blackfriars. What I like about it is that in some photos, such as this one, it looks like a 2D collage stuck onto the sky, instead of a 3D building in front of the sky.
3.2 is the new entrance to Tottenham Court Road tube/crossrail station, outside Centre Point, seen from further up Tottenham Court Road.
3.3 is the Big Olympic Thing, seen from Canning Town railway and tube station. A tiny bit of it, anyway. To me, unmistakable. To you, maybe an explanation needed.
4.1 shows me photoing shop trivia, in this case a spread of magazines dominated by the scarily intense face of one of British TV’s great Tragedy Queens, the actress Nicola Walker. I first clocked her when she was in Spooks. Now she’s in everything.
4.2 and 4.3 are both film crew snaps. 4.2 features a London Underground Big Cheese, who is a bit put out to find himself being photoed by the wrong person instead of by his own tame film crew. He was drawing a lot of attention to himself, so I reckon him fair blogging game. 4.3 is another film crew, in Victoria Street, just loving the attention, who will be ecstatic when they here about how they have hit the big time. I like how there’s a movie advert on a bus right behind them.
There, that wasn’t so bad. Although there are probably several mistakes that I am, as of the smallest hours of 2016, too tired to be fixing.
Happy New Year to all who get to read this.
At that excellent party last night, the one that gave rise to last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting, Rob Fisher mentioned that he had thoughts from time to time which are too inconsequential and un-thought-through for Samizdata, but which are still definitely thoughts that he wants to put out there, but for which he has no outlet. He used to have a personal blog, but not since he started writing for Samizdata.
My response was this: Write these thoughts down. Send them to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom, explicitly identifying them as submissions to BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. And the chances, overwhelmingly, are that I will post them here as guest postings. After all, as last night’s spectacular non sequitur of a posting illustrates, the quality control here is very, very relaxed. Sometimes stuff here is good, but it absolutely doesn’t have to be. It just has to be stuff.
I just wanted to make that clear, in case Rob has forgotten, or has remembered but thought that I was just rambling drunkenly and didn’t mean it.
This is not a general invitation to all of my acquaintances to bombard me with drunken would-be bloggage. And it is certainly not an invitation to wanker social media PR slaves to “submit” boring pieces about things I don’t care about by people I don’t care about, sometimes hinting at money that I will never get, and causing my email address to get onto yet more lists, wielded by yet more wanker social media PR slaves. Not that me saying that will put these wanker social media PR slaves off. But I just wanted to get it out there.
Photographs are, as all the world has recently been learning, except those whose business – paid or unpaid – it is to complain about what all the world has recently been learning, a wonderful aid to memory.
And many of the happiest memories of our extraordinarily comfortable and frequently very happy times involve food. So - and the complainers complain about it with a venom they seem to reserve only for this, and for selfies - people now like to photo food. Food that they have themselves prepared. And food that others have prepared for them.
And I like to photo them photoing the food. This also makes happy memories.
Man prepares meat: Man photos meat: Man prepares salad: Man photos salad:
These are happy memories from last August. Visit to friends in the outer suburbs.
The outer suburbs? What do they look like? Well, one of the things they look like (horizontalisation opportunity) is this:
That’s the large patch of grass, beyond the back wall of their back garden. And sadly, although those things in the distance do vaguely resemble Big Things, they are actually rather smaller trees.
We are beyond the “Green Belt”. The above photo, especially if clicked on, offers a glimpse of what the Green Belt might usefully be turned into, instead of it remaining for ever the wasteland of pointless open space that it is now. It would need livening up a bit. A bit of open-caste mining, or a temporary phase as a juvenile race track? Then let nature take its course, and you’ll have a lovely place. Apparently some industrial type activity (gravel?) is about to happen in that particular stretch of grass. That will stir up some interesting nature, when the industrialising is done.
Finally, this being Friday, here is a visitor to our jollifications who dropped by that afternoon:
Like many cats in places like this, this cat seems to have a basic home of basic benefactors, and daily rounds to visit other potential and not-so-basic benefactors. This visitor acquired no happy food memories with his/her visit, on the day I photoed him/her. Not that day.
But I have plenty. Without my camera, these memories would soon have gone.
Last night I gave a talk about London’s Big Things and their historical and theoretical backstory, at Christian Michel’s place. The talk felt very disorganised from where I was sitting, on account of me trying to say too much, but it seemed to be quite well received. Aiden Gregg was kind enough to compare my talk to London itself: crazy, but lots of interesting things vying for attention.
Last July, I featured a computer fake-up picture of the next London Big Thing, and there on the right is the same picture, again, smaller. The new building, under construction now, is the one in the middle, and the tallest.
But now, just a day after giving my Big Thing talk, I learn of the next but one London Big Thing, which will, if all proceeds according to the current plan, look like this:
I like it. On its own it’s nothing very fantastic, but presumably, this being the City of London, the detailing will be stylish. And it will lift the City Big Thing cluster to new heights. I think the combined effect will be excellent, and I rather think that the consequence may be that after it goes up we may talk of the City Cluster, rather than of its individual Big Thing bits. I also think I detect the influence of the Broadgate Tower, with those big Xs all of it.
A pattern seems to be emerging with these Big Things, aside from the patterns on the outside of them I mean, which is that they stick an eatery-and-drinkery and a viewing gallery at the top, to get at least some of the public (definitely me) behind the Big Thing.
The architects are really selling this latest Big Thing as something that may help to stir up the weekend in the City, weekends in the City at the moment being about as lively as the inside of a coffin. Not only are they throwing in a bar/restaurant and a viewing gallery at the top, open free of charge to all comers, but they are also clearing out some space at the bottom of the Big Thing for us punters to wander about in, and presumably buy yet more stuff. We’ll have to ask nicely on the internet the night before to go to the top of this Big Thing, if the rules for the similarly welcoming Walkie-Talkie top are anything to go by. But the big space at the bottom will - presumably again – be a place you can just show up in and enjoy. Photoing upwards from that space should really be something, as well as outwards and downwards from the top.
I don’t really know how this sort of thing works, but what seems to be happening is that they are trying to make this Big Thing as popular as possible out here in punter-land, to maximise its chances of getting a smooth ride on the planning permission front. I’m guessing that in a deal like this, there is just nothing better than getting your Big Thing built really big (and it really is big), as planned and on schedule, with no grief from the politicians. That’s all well worth a public space and whatever places up top that Joe Public (aka: me) and his digital camera may desire.
LATER: The Guardian - 1 Undershaft, the tallest skyscraper in the City of London, revealed - goes into much more detail, very informatively, if a bit sniffily in the way you’d expect from the Guardian talking about trade. Ends by saying what I say about how the City Big Thing cluster will “congeal” into one lump.
Will this Big Thing just be called “The Undershaft”?.
On Friday November 27th (i.e. exactly one week from now), my friend from way back, Antoine Clarke, will be giving a talk at my place entitled “Herding cats, or lessons from drunks about organising anarchy”.
These talks happen every last Friday of the month, and before they give one of them, I ask each speaker to supply a paragraph or two about what they’ll be saying, so I can email my list of potential attenders. Antoine has just supplied me with ten paragraphs on his talk:
It would be hard to imagine any more dysfunctional organisation than a leaderless group of drunks promising among themselves to quit drinking and to help other drunks to quit.
And then I realized that there is a similar organisation for narcotics addicts, one for cocaine addicts, crystal meth addicts and even “sex and love addicts” - whatever that may mean.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a “benign anarchy” by one of its founders and manages to organize over 100,000 groups worldwide with between 1.5 million and 2 million members. Its power structure has been described as an “inverted pyramid”.
AA operates by having almost completely autonomous branches, no publicity, no professional class of “charity workers” and no set fees. It has a “12-step program” and “12 traditions” which have been described respectively as “rules for not killing yourself” and “rules for not killing other people”.
The effectiveness of AA at curing or controlling alcohol addiction is not clear cut. Because of anonymity, self-selection and the difficulty of known if someone who stops attending meetings has relapsed or simply found he can lead a functional lifestyle. The fact that over a dozen other organisations have copied AA’s 12-step and 12 tradition system suggests at least some level of success, unlike, say the UK’s National Health Service which has fewer imitators.
One particular problem for AA is that any 12-step program will only really work if it is voluntary, but in the USA especially, courts mandate that convicted criminals attend AA meetings as a parole condition. I think this reduces recidivism among the criminals (compared with them NOT following a program), but it surely dilutes the effectiveness of AA groups (more disruptive attendees, people going through the motions, possible discouragement of others).
I shall be looking at the elements of AA’s structure and organisational culture to see what lessons can be learned about the possibility of anarchic institutions especially at handling social problems.
What interests me is the “anarchy with table manners” aspect of AA and the contrast with truly dysfunctional libertarian organisations, like the Libertarian Alliance.
I’m also interested in the issue of government interference and the ways in which well-meaning interventions make matters worse. I shall also take a look at the spiritual element of AA’s 12-step program, noting that it claims to work for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists.
Hopefully, this is an attractive alternative to binge drinking on a Friday night in central London.
Indeed. There will be no binge drinking at the meeting.
I never did get to see that gas holder park I was on about yesterday. I had thought it would be clearly visible and clearly signposted, but it was neither, and I placed myself on the wrong side of a big building site, and never got near it. I only worked out exactly where it had been hiding when I got home.
But none of that matters. The point of having a photo-objective of this sort is to get me to a part of town that I might not otherwise be visiting, and in general, to get me out into the town. Gas Holder Park isn’t going anywhere, and my failed attempt to visit it, I got to be on the exact right bit of pavement to take this photo, which is definitely one of my recent favourites:
It’s not just the craziness of the vehicle. It’s the way that, with no other traffic - or even pedestrians - choosing to get involved in the short, and with my camera tracking the crazy vehicle and thus blurring everything else, the crazy vehicle becomes a sort of disembodied presence, liberated from the urban bustle that it was in fact surrounded by, like it was a movie character on drugs, or something similarly unenmeshed in reality as the rest of us perceive it.
Seconds later, I took another shot of the crazy vehicle as it sped away from me, hoping that it tell me what the white sphere was in aid of. It wasn’t a great picture ...:
... but it did the job:
And (see above) it’s a recently opened ping pong drinkery. The white sphere is a ping pong ball. More about the place here, where there is another picture of the Morris Minor, surrounded by urban bustle, so not on drugs.
I’ve not been out much lately, but last Friday night I got to see Perry and Adriana’s new version of indoors. That was the best photo I took, of a drying up cloth.
Click on that to see Adriana’s trousers, of the sort that are presumably threatening all the time to get tighter.
Photoed by me last night, at Southwark tube station:
Next to the ticket barrier at Southwark tube there are a number of these little history lessons, of which this was my favourite. This is the kind of thing you can usually chase up quickly on the internet, and find a fuller account of. But, my googling abilities are such that I can find no reference to this fish-discouragement story. Anyone?
A while back, there used to be Walkers Marmite flavoured crisps. Then, they went away. I mourned their passing.
… they’re back! That being a celebratory photo I took earlier this evening. Apparently I have democracy to thank.
I wonder, will there be a day when political elections include the added attraction of a prize draw, for all who vote?
I shan’t be voting for any other crisps to join Marmite crisps. Marmite was, as far as I am concerned, the big one. I am now happy.
I have a distinct recollection of posting a photo of Marmite flavoured crisps, here or somewhere, way back. But when I tried to find such a posting, all I could find was a photo of some Marmite spoons. But, by looking for crisps without mentioning Marmite, I did find a posting I did about an earlier round of Walkers crisp voting.
I believe I may have said here recently that I did not care for selfies, although I cannot find where I said this. But whether I said this or not, it is not entirely true. There is a kind of selfie that I do like, which is when I am photoing some scene or other, and I am able to sneak a selfie into it, in a small part of the picture.
Partly this is because my understanding is that Real Photographers go to enormous trouble to avoid such selfie effects. As with PR experts, if the Photographer is the story, or any part of the story, then he isn’t telling the story right. The Real Photographer is not doing his job, which is to create a photo of whatever he is photoing, not of him, the Real Photographer, photoing it. The Real Photographer is supposed to be invisible.
Well, fair enough, business is business. But I am not in business. I am wandering about, having fun. If I show up in one of my photos, that’s fine, because that was what was going on in front of my camera. There was this mirror or this window or this shiny windscreen or whatever, and my face bounced back to my camera off of it. It happens, and it’s all part of how cameras work and what can happen with them.
Besides which, more fundamentally, I am not trying to persuade you that you were or are actually there. No. This is a photo. Photos are different from what you actually see if you are there, that being a great deal of the point of them, and a great deal of the fun of them. Cameras see and tell you about things that you might very well have missed, if you had merely been there, just as I do constantly miss stuff when I was there taking the photo, and only see later. It’s not reality. It’s a photo. Which means that someone stood there, with a camera, and took that photo. And, sometimes, the camera sees that. Why is that wrong?
All of which is a preamble-stroke-excuse for the following selfie:
I am the bloke in the light green shirt and the dark jacket, reflected in the bus window, underneath the “38” of “38 Victoria”.
Now, I approach my original point, the point referred to in the title of this. To me, it doesn’t look as if I am standing where I obviously had to be standing. No, it looks like the bloke in the light green shirt can’t be me, because the bus, all of it, and especially the bit with the reflection of the green shirt bloke, is a bit to my right. Ergo, green shirt bloke had to have been standing a minimum of about three yards to the right of me, me being the bloke who took the picture. But, despite all appearances to the contrary, me and green shirt bloke are one and the same.
I presume that this odd effect is the consequence of the lens (there is only one) in my camera being of the very wide angle sort. This means that the camera takes a very wide view, but then makes the result look not so wide. Everything that would be seen by the eye as being way off to the side is squeezed into the picture. And things on the far left, to the left of the photographer at the time, are squeezed into looking as if they were on his right, in the picture.
I don’t think I’d have been able to see this nearly so vividly if this picture had not been, among other things, a selfie. On the other hand, it was not a selfie in the sense that I deliberately included myself in the picture. I am pretty sure that just happened, without me trying.
At the time, all I thought I was photoing was a bus, covered in a popcorn advert.