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

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Category archive: Travel

Sunday October 15 2017

For me, it’s the most expensive penny I ever spend.  I’m referring to the toilet in Gramex, the services of which I often avail myself, in between hunting for keenly priced second-hand or ex-review-copy classical CDs.

This shop has kept moving over the years and is now seeking yet another new location, because its current location is about to be turned into a hotel.  But for now, until the 17th of this month, when you pee there, you beyold, in a very bedraggled state, a reproduction of a famous photograph, of New York’s Grand Central Terminal:

image

There seem to be several versions of this photo, because more than one photoer noticed this remarkable phenomenon.  The phenomenon being how the presence of smoke or steam in the atmosphere turns any light that journeys through the smoke or the steam into a solid block of light.

This being well known to showbiz of course.  Here is a recent 6k photo, of a pop combo in action, being lit with smoke and searchlights.

The nearest I have ever got to anything like this myself is a set of photos I took one rather misty day in September 2015, when I was officially checking out the first of London Gateway’s cranes.  I have already shown this photo here, but here it is again because I like it so much:

image

Here is another photo that I took moments earlier, which I have not shown here before:

image

What I especially like about that one is that is shows how solidified light of this sort blocks out what is behind it.  You can’t see past such light.  But when there is no light crashing through and lighting up the mist, you can see through the mist.  Look how, when there isn’t lit up mist, you can see, past all the closer-up drama, another world of clouds, in the darker distance.

The above photo reminds me of another favourite photo of mine, this time where my reflection in a shop window, dark because back lit, makes it possible to see through the shop window into the shop, which otherwise you can’t because of brightly lit reflections from behind me.  In this case it is those bright reflections that are the solid light:

image

That was photoed in the south of France, in Ceret, a town famous for its light and much loved by artists, in particular by Picasso.

I love that what we actually see through the shop window is someone else taking a photo.

Photography is light.

Saturday October 14 2017

I got bogged down semi-working on a succession of postings that never got finished.  So here is a quota photo, picked out the archives pretty much at random:

image

There I was, trawling through a huge clutch of photos taken somewhere in Brittany, in June 2011, but not knowing where they were of.  Then that photo presented itself, and all was clarified.

Memo to self: always photo signs, maps, signposts, in fact anything that will later tell me what I was photoing and where.  I know, I know, cameras will give you map references, if you ask them nicely.  But I’m a twentieth century boy.  I like actual maps

Preferably with little signs on them that say: you are here.  Or in this particular case, vous êtes ici, which I don’t think the above maps do have.  Quel dommage.

I recently started a new directory called “You are here”, for all such map photos.

Sunday August 13 2017

Luxury ‘thin house’ being built in three-metre gap between London buildings

And here is the picture under that headline:

image

What this story illustrates is that cities are not going to go away, merely because electronic communication is becoming ever easier.  People still crave physical proximity to wherever the action is that they most like.  Given the choice between living in a spacious home in the wrong place to a poky little box cupboard like the above, in the right place, then a lot of people choose the latter.

Besides which, why do I want “a spacious home”?  Then I’d have to look after the bloody thing.  I have a specious home.  It’s called London, and lots of other people look after it for me.

This Old School blogging is turning out a lot like regular blogging.

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:

image

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:

image

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 July 24 2017

I often take, and often then display here, photos whose only merit is that they hint at what the proper version of the same photo would look like.  I then allude to some fun facts that even the crappy photo on display does nevertheless manage to show.  So it is in today’s photo.

Yesterday I was making my way to Alton, in Hampshire, by train.  This caused me to stop at Clapham Junction.  So far so routine.  I often change trains at Clapham Junction.  But never before had I been awaiting a train for Alton, and that meant waiting at platform 11, which I don’t believe I have ever done before, because if I had, I would be familiar with this Big Thing alignment:

image

That’s right.  We see there the Spray Can and the Shard there, right next to each other.  Well, we see them if I tell you they’re there, and if you persevere a bit.  The light yesterday was very poor and blurry.

And while we are about it, the above two Big Things are also both aligned with the nearer and not so Big new US Embassy, whose distinctively patterned vertical surface you can also just about make out.

Memo to self: pick a nice day (i.e. a much better day than yesterday), and spend it at Clapham Junction, getting all the views that can be obtained from the London end of each of its many platforms.  Or maybe just a representative selection of them.  Until someone arrests me.

Sunday July 23 2017

Today is the Women’s World Cup Final at Lord’s, mentioned here earlier.  They’re calling it the biggest game in the history of women’s cricket, and they’re not wrong.

So, what does the London weather do?

A dry start for many with some sunny spells. Through the morning scattered showers are likely to develop, locally heavy with a risk of thunder in the afternoon before dying away during the evening.

Could have been worse.  Sounds like (a) they’ll get a game, but (b) it will be a terrible let-down, involving Duckworth and Lewis.  This is the much feared and universally not understood formula for deciding who wins a cricket match, by calculating a revised target in fewer overs for the side batting second, or, later, by guessing who would have won if it hadn’t rained so bloody much and put a stop to everything.

Meanwhile, I’ll be journeying to Newton Valence, in faraway Hampshire, to see GodDaughter 2 in Le Nozzi di Figaro.  This was to have been outdoors, but wisely, it has already been moved into the barn:

The Long Barn is one of the most spacious and exquisite barns in Hampshire. Nestled in the picturesque village of Newton Valence, amidst spectacular rolling countryside, The Long Barn offers breathtaking views from one of the highest points in the South Downs National Park.

But how breathtaking will those views be today?

Let’s hope those sunny spells make their presence felt.

Thursday June 15 2017

I have posted here recently about the design of tube maps.

And I have posted here about how the Roman Empire surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.

But I didn’t expect ever to be posting about both, in the form of the same piece of graphics.  But now, Colossal has a posting entitled The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways imagined as a Subway Transit Map:

image

If you click on that, you’ll get it big enough to clock all the station names.  (If your eyesight is in the same zone of dodgyness as mine.)

I actually think that this drives home the point, about Rome surrounding the Mediterranean, very well.  Just giving all the various tribes and countries and kingdoms involved a spanking on the battlefield is one thing.  Roman roads are something else again.  A Roman road says: We’re here to say, and we can do it again whenever we want.

Thursday June 01 2017

Incoming from GodDaughter 2, who has been in foreign parts for a friend’s wedding.  She did tell me where, but the only thing I remember for sure is that this is a picture, as luck would have it, of the very same sea, the Mediterranean, that I was posting about yesterday:

image

I recommend clicking on that.  There’s nothing special going on.  Nobody is photoing, apart from GD2.  There are no distant cranes, no container ship on the horizon.  I just think it’s very beautiful.

Taken with an iPhone.

Should a tube map look like this, which shows the real places and distances of everything, but is confusing, especially if you are looking at the middle …

image

… ?

Or like this, which is the usual way you see tube maps, all designed, with inner suburban distances shortened, to make everything more clear, especially in the crowded middle …

image

… ?

Answer, do the map as a .gif and show both, morphing into each other.

Now that TV screens for advertising are becoming ubiquitous at tube stations, seemingly costing hardly any more than paper of the same size (changed by hand from time to time), why not have TV screens at tube stations with .gifs like this on show?  Maybe you could have buttons on them, so individual viewers could switch from one to the other in their own time?  Would this cause arguments between rival viewers?  Revised suggestion: Have three displays on one screen: on the left, real distances; .gif in the middle; “designed” on the right.

Wednesday May 17 2017

Today I had a New Zealand day.

In the afternoon I had a whole lot of fun catching up with Tony, whom I last saw in about 1763.  Well, 1984, to be exact.  Still a long time ago.  Apparently Chris Tame and I and the Alternative Bookshop and all that had a big impact on his early thinking.  Tony is a New Zealander, who lives in New Zealand with Mrs Tony and the three grown-up Baby Tonys, and he is now on a flying visit back to Europe with Mrs Tony.  Message to Tony: here is Samizdata.

And then after that I attended a double talk at the Adam Smith Institute, by two other New Zealanders, about what we Brits can learn from them about how to make the best of Brexit.  Here are four of the photos I took.  On the left, two of the graphics, 1.1 being the one on the screen before they got started, and the other being about New Zealand immigration, which is apparently a lot better system than ours is.

imageimageimage
imageimageimage

And on the right, the two speakers.  The first one turned out to be a German New Zealander.  Fair enough.  He talked about immigration, and he knows a lot about that.

The second guy talked about agriculture and about fishing.

Saturday May 13 2017

I can’t remember how I came across the blog Sleepless in Barcelona.  But I did, and was intrigued that, like London, it seems that Barcelona likes to advertise itself with an assemblage of its most recognisable buildings:

image

I visited Barcelona in 2005 (I got the date from this posting), and I remember thinking then that, like London, Barcelona was an obvious candidate for this sort of graphic promotion.  Like London, it used to have an upper limit to the height of its buildings - caused by religiously motivated legal restrictions, perhaps?  But now, whatever those height limitations were, they had been overcome or set aside, and the occasional bigger building was sprouting up, in the new “recognisable”, “iconic” style.  Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia used to dominate the city in splendid isolation, the way St Paul’s Cathedral used to dominate the City of London, but for a while now, other, secular Big Things have being permitted.

More Barcelona graphic assemblages here, and in lots of other www spots too, if google images ("Barcelona skyline") is anything to go by.

Here is another such piece of graphic promotion, this time more colourful:

image

Just as with London, and with quite a lot of other cities, two of the key breakthrough modern Big Things were telecoms towers.  Montjuïc Communications Tower and the Torre de Collserola.  Both are to be seen on the left side of the above graphic.  I remember noticing both of those very dramatic buildings when I was there, but I also vaguely remember failing to photo them at all successfully.  My camera didn’t have anything like the zoom that my current one does.

Maybe I should pay Barcelona another visit.

Telecoms towers have a typically rather unacknowledged place in the history of modern architecture.  Dating as many of them do from the concrete monstrosity era, they proved, with their popularity and their popularity in particular with picture postcard sellers, that the public vastly preferred amusingly shaped buildings to the usual concrete monstrosities of the boringly rectangular sort.  This caused the Big Thing style to erupt quite a bit earlier than it might otherwise have done.

Sunday April 16 2017

Lincoln Paine is an admirably ambitious historian.  Here is the first sentence (to be found on page 3 of my paperback (but still very big) edition) of the introduction of Paine’s very big book, The Sea and Civilization, which is 744 pages long and which I have just started reading:

I want to change the way you see the world. ...

Good, because I bought this book in order to do exactly that, change the way I see the world.

In the following specific way:

… Specifically, I want to change the way you see the world map by focusing your attention on the blues that shade 70 percent of the image before you, and letting the earth tones fade. ...

Hurrah for the internet.  I went looking for a maritime history of the world and found this, which I might never have done if I had been relying on merely physical bookshops.

… This shift in emphasis from land to water makes many trends and patterns of world history stand out in ways they simply cannot otherwise. Before the development of the locomotive in the nineteenth century, culture, commerce, contagion, and conflict generally moved faster by sea than by land. The opening of sea routes sometimes resulted in immediate transformation, but more often it laid the groundwork for what was later mistaken for sudden change. ...

Here is an example of what you notice when you think like this.  On page 7, we read this, about the USA:

A maritime perspective complicates our understanding of the “westward” expansion of the United States. California achieved statehood in 1851, two years after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, when the territory was virtually unknown to Americans back east and the number of United States citizens on the Pacific coast numbered only a few thousand. Thanks to the extraordinary capacity of the American merchant marine of the day, tens of thousands of people reached San Francisco by ship, a mode of transportation that was faster, cheaper, and safer than the transcontinental journey, although the distance covered was more than four times longer. The United States conquered the interior of the continent - what are today known as the fly-over states, but at the time could aptly have been called the sail-around territories – in a pincer movement from both coasts, rather than by a one-way overland movement from the east.

On my TV I have just recently been watching Michael Portillo investigate that very “westward” expansion of the USA, with plenty of wagons and locomotives involved, but no mention at all of any ships.  So I know exactly what Paine means.

Paine goes on to assert (on page 9) that there have been …:

… changes in the public perception of the maritime world, for the merchant marine and naval services no longer hold the attraction for people that they once did, when ocean liners and freighters crowded the piers of Manhattan, Hamburg, Sydney, and Hong Kong. At the start of the twenty-first century, ships and shipping lines are the warp and woof of globalization. Ships carry about 90 percent of world trade and the number of oceangoing ships has grown threefold in the past half century. But the nature of shipping has led to the relocation of cargo-handling facilities to places remote from traditional port cities, ...

In other words: out of sight, out of mind.

About that, I am not so sure.  Maybe it’s more a matter of degree than he says.  I guess I’m a bit different, in that I have been particularly noticing both what is happening to London’s old docks and waterways (they’re being prettied up for tourists like me and for the new gentry (really, mostly, just indoor and better paid proletarians) who now live next to them) and where London’s new mega-dock is now nearing completion, downstream.  I am definitely not the only one who has noticed shipping containers.  As Paine himself says, in his final chapter, containers are driving globalisation, and much of the globe has surely noticed.  Indeed, this might be why Paine’s publishers judged the time to be right for the switch in focus that he argues for.  On the other hand, I did have to go looking for this book.  Nobody else brought it to my attention, spontaneously, as it were.

Talking of focus, my eyesight has now reached the stage of me only being able to read a book by holding it about two inches away from my face.  Spactacles don’t do it for me any more.  Usually this is fine.  But this is a very big book, and it is going to be a very big struggle for me to read it.  But I am determined to do all the struggling that I must.

Or, I might go to the internet again, and buy something like this contraption.  If I do purchase such a reading aid, it will presumably be as cheap as it is because it recently crossed the world in a shipping container.

Monday March 13 2017

The omniscient short-term weather forecasters have ordained that today’s weather will be very good, so I will go somewhere, and take photos.

Here is where I plan to go:

image

I am interested in Highbury Fields, from where I hope to be able to see Big Things, uninterrupted by the leaves that will spoil such views later in the year.  And I will also, if I have time, investigate the thin strip of green that goes through where it says CANONBURY, a little bit to the south east.  This is part of the New River, more northerly bits of which I earlier explored with Goddaughter One.

I now plan to go there, because I am so old I now need a plan, in order to get out of the house, good and early, in the first place.

Saturday March 11 2017

I spent most of today watching rugger on the telly.

In the first game Italy got beaten by France, and in the second game, Italy got slaughtered by England.

Just kidding.  It wasn’t England v Italy.  It merely felt like England v Italy.  What it was was England v Scotland.  It was a brutal game and several players, both English and Scottish, got smashed out of it.  The difference being that while Scotland have about three superb players around which they have constructed a fine team, England have more like twenty superb players with which they have constructed an even finer team.  Scotland lost one of their best players today.  England also lost an equally good player, from an illegal tackle early on.  England carried on as if nothing had happened.  Scotland were utterly deranged and demoralised.

England were also riled up and determined to do really well, because although they now win every game they play, people had been saying that their last few Six Nations wins were not very good wins, especially the previous one, against actual Italy, where Italy had done some weird stuff with the rucks and had England all confused.  People were saying that Scotland, who have been playing really well, had a decent chance of beating England, despite the fact that the last time they won at Twickenham was in the reign of George III or whenever.

England looked excellent from the kick-off, and I think I must have felt that they were going to win convincingly even then.  I say that because, after about two minutes, one of the Scots did that illegal tackle, so illegally that they were saying he might be red carded rather than merely yellow carded, i.e. sent off for good instead of just for ten minutes.  And I caught myself hoping that he wouldn’t be sent off permanently, because that would spoil the game and mean that England’s inevitable win wouldn’t mean anything.  Much better for England to win against the full fifteen, was my feeling.  Which England duly did.

But those who said England might lose shouldn’t feel bad, because predicting the Six Nations is a mug’s game.  (The only certainly right now is that Italy will get beaten by everyone else.) I mean, put it like this.  Today England smashed Scotland.  In the previous round of games, Scotland hammered Wales, and yesterday evening Wales hammered Ireland.  So, England should have no trouble at all hammering Ireland, in the final game of the tournament, right?  Not necessarily.  The other way of looking at these three games (England/Scotland, Scotland/Wales, Wales/Ireland) is that in each of them, the home team won.  And when England play Ireland, the home team will be Ireland.  England have now beaten France, Italy and Scotland at home, but they only just beat Wales away, with a last gasp try.

But here’s an interesting fact.  Take a look at all the results so far.  Remove all the Italy games, all lost by Italy no matter where they played, and you are left with just one away win, in the form of that Wales/England game.  All the other games between the Not Italy Nations have been home wins, apart from that one Wales/England game.  If England can score another away win next weekend, they’ll be very worthy Six Nations 2017 winners.  They already are the winners.

My guess is that next weekend, England will manage the second of their only two (and the only two) Not Italy Nations away wins of the entire tournament, that Scotland (in Scotland) will smash Italy, and that France (in France) will beat Wales.

Tuesday January 31 2017

Africa is big, and Africa’s rivers don’t help in cutting these huge distances down to size.

More from Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography (p. 119):

Most of the continent’s rivers also pose a problem, as they begin in high land and descend in abrupt drops which thwart navigation. For example, the mighty Zambezi may be Africa’s fourth-longest river, running for 1,600 miles, and may be a stunning tourist attraction with its white-water rapids and the Victoria Falls, but as a trade route it is of little use. It flows through six countries, dropping from 4,900 feet to sea level when it reaches the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. Parts of it are navigable by shallow boats, but these parts do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo.

Unlike in Europe, which has the Danube and the Rhine, this drawback has hindered contact and trade between regions - which in turn affected economic development, and hindered the formation of large trading regions. The continent’s great rivers, the Niger, the Congo, the Zambezi, the Nile and others, don’t connect and this disconnection has a human factor.  Whereas huge areas of Russia, China and the USA speak a unifying language which helps trade, in Africa thousands of languages exist and no one culture emerged to dominate areas of similar size. Europe, on the other hand, was small enough to have a ‘lingua franca’ through which to communicate, and a landscape that encouraged interaction.

I’m guessing that Africa’s famed natural resources (although not of the mineral sort – those natural resources just suck in thieving foreigners) also helped to split the population up into lots of little enclaves, by making it possible for quite small communities to be economically self-sufficient.  Not very self-sufficient, as in rich, but sufficiently self-sufficient not to die out but instead to keep ticking over.