Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Brian Micklethwait on Photographers by the river
Darren on Photographers by the river
Laban on Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington's Amazing Castle
Laban on Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington's Amazing Castle
Ed Harris on May 2005 was my first big month for photoing photoers
Mr.FC on An extraordinary coincidence
6000 on A smartphone wearing sunglasses
Brian Micklethwait on What writing for Samizdata should now (for me) mean
Brian Micklethwait on The Shard was looking very special today
Perry de Havilland on What writing for Samizdata should now (for me) mean
Most recent entries
- Don’t mention The Wires!!! in South Korea either!
- My next camera?
- How David Irving put himself on trial
- Credit where credit is due (in France)
- Zorb football
- Palestra House – then and now
- May 2005 was my first big month for photoing photoers
- White cat – Mick Hartley’s photos and other photos he likes – black and white and colour
- Out and about with GD1 (5): Stoke Newington’s Amazing Castle
- Photographers by the river
- When David Irving called a British Judge “Mein Fuhrer”
- Tomorrow I will get out less
- London dragon
- Sunlight (selectively) on roof clutter
- A smartphone wearing sunglasses
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Travel
A while back I visited a friend in Epping, and during our ramblings in Epping Forest that day, it was mentioned that there was a spot in that general area where the Big Things of London could be seen. Seen from a great distance, but seen, in a gap between the trees.
Lured by the promise of this view, I returned, the Sunday before last, and was duly shown this view. You could see what appeared to be the BT Tower, and when I got home I confirmed that it was indeed the BT Tower. But, handsome though the BT Tower is, there is more to the towers of London than the BT tower. Never mind. I contented myself with photoing decaying farm machines.
But there are no decaying farm machine photos in this posting, and for that matter no photos of the BT Tower. Because. About an hour later, in weather that (as had been promised by the weather forecasters) was improving, we stumbled (if you can stumble in a car) on a vastly improved view of London. We only got to that because my friend was using a hoped-for short cut to show me an antique railway station or a church or some such thing. But suddenly I yelled that the view I had hoped to see an hour earlier was now viewable. Stop the car. Stop the car. Let me get out and photo … this:
There they all are: Strata (the one with three holes in the top) Shard, Walkie-Talkie, Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Heron Tower, Natwest Tower, Spraycan. They’re all there. Apart from the BT Tower which is away to the right and hidden behind a hill.
As so often at this blog, what you are looking at is a great photo, taken just about technically well enough for you to realise what an even greater photo in all respects this could have been, if taken by a Real Photographer at the top of his Real Photographer game.
The only reason it has taken so long for me to stick up this picture is that, as you can surely imagine, I took a great many shots like this one, but later could not decide which one was the least mediocre. All were very striking (because of what was in them), and rather blurry (because I’m a blurry kind of photographer when I take shots like these), and interrupted by wires in the foreground (because I did not see those until I got home).
I took that photo on the right, of our location displayed on its map by my smartphone, in the car, just before we continued to what had been intended as our next destination. As you can see from this, we were well beyond the M25. The small blue blob in the middle is the location. Subsequent google mappery confirmed that we were twenty miles and more from the centre of London.
Sadly, the small blue blob in the middle is pointing, very misleadingly, in a completely different direction to the direction in which I pointed my camera to photo London. London is located below and to the left, i.e. towards the south west, the M25 being the road around London and the M11 being the road from the territory to the north east of London (involving such places as Cambridge), to London.
This spot is not all that far from Epping tube station. On a better day, I will return.
This view combines great distance with definite visibility to a degree that I have not experience and photographed from any other place. Does anybody know of any place that scores higher by this combined measure?
I include cranes in the category list below. There are, as always with big pictures of London, cranes.
One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:
Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.
Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.
And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture. Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter! Perhaps it already has.
As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps. It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway. (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored. So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself. I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed. Norway, sort this out.)
Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it. The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents. See also: Tate Modern. After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.
What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag. This time it is a museum in Budapest:
And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:
With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.
This is architect speak for:
People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.
And oh look, again. Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:
Look again, and you encounter the Barack Obama Presidential Center:
These last two are not so zig zag, but the principle is the same.
London awaits you, Snohettans.
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.
I just came across this Economist piece from last November (I think that link will keep on working), saying that there may soon be ultra-cheap trans-Atlantic flights. I did not know this.
Norwegian Air Shuttle, a low-cost carrier that has been expanding rapidly across Europe, has begun flying across the Atlantic and to Thailand. Next March Wow Air, an Icelandic carrier, will start flights on routes such as Boston to London, via Reykjavik, with introductory prices as low as $99 one way.
Time was when …:
… the fuel burned by long-haul planes made up a large proportion of the cost of operating the flights. That made it hard for budget carriers to find enough cost savings elsewhere to cut prices sufficiently to tempt flyers to switch from carriers offering more comforts.
This is now changing, with the launches of some new and far more fuel-efficient planes: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, already in the air, Airbus’s A350, which will start flying within weeks, and a revamped version of Airbus’s A330, coming in 2019. Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary, recently reiterated a promise that he would eventually sell transatlantic flights from as little as €10 ($13) one-way and with average return fares of around €200-300. The full-service airlines will also be ordering these new planes, but their cost disadvantage compared with the nimble budget carriers (because of such things as their legacy pension schemes and labour agreements) will become more stark.
Perhaps I will one day set foot in the USA after all.
As for that Economist link above, no, unless you subscribe. You have to google “making laker’s dream come true”. Then you can read it.
Or: this link seems to get you straight to a recycled version of the piece.
One of the better kept secrets of the popular entertainment industry of the modern world is how very good certain people are at faking reality, with quite small but very well made models. Thoughtless people say they can always spot such fakery. But the truth is that they only spot what they spot. What they don’t spot, they don’t spot. Obvious, if you think about it. The same principle applies to things like men wearing wigs. We can only see them when they are done badly.
So, I’m guessing that not everyone in Hollywood will be pleased about the internet presence of this guy, who contrives pictures like this ...:
… by doing this:
I found out about Michael Paul Smith from this Colossal posting, which is also where I got the above photos.
Much of the success of such fakery is to do with the camera being in the right place. In particular, it needs to be low enough to see things from the same angle that a human would see them if the scene was real.
I remember first working this out when, as a kid, I went through a model railway magazine phase, a craze I caught from my best friend just a few doors away in Harvest Road, Englefield Green. Most of the pictures in those magazines were obviously of models, but this was not because the models were always badly made. It was because the camera was looking down on the scene, just as you do when you are looking at a model. On the few occasions when the photographer would take the trouble to get his camera at real eye level, so to speak, it was amazing how realistic everything could suddenly look.
By the same token, and being only an occasional flyer, I have never yet tired of the thrill of looking down at the ground, preferably at built-up areas, from an airplane in the process of taking off or landing. Everything looks like toys. Really, really well made toys. Your frequent flyers have got used to the idea that this is really just boring old reality, seen from above. But to me, what I see from an airplane is something totally different from reality. It is an entire world, painstakingly faked in miniature, for my personal entertainment.
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?
Adverts can be very revealing:
I spotted this advert at a bus stop in Quimper, Brittany, on January 2nd.
The point is, this is not Paris. Quimper is a provincial French city rather than a big French city. So this really got my attention.
More fun being had with the Union Jack there.
From time to time I go looking for pictures of bridges, preferably new ones, but seldom find anything I don’t know about. And then, quite by chance, while clicking through these old photos, I chance upon this:
It’s the Golden Gate, being built, in 1937.
I recall doing a pen-an-ink type sketch (as opposed to something theatrical like a comedy sketch – odd double meaning that), when in my teens, of the Severn Road Bridge, when it only had a chunk of road in the middle, suspended in glorious isolation, going nowhere in either direction (like in the photo here). This photo reminds me of those times.
I never actually drew any decent pictures, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about composition, by which I mean that I chose quite good pictures to do, but actually did them very badly. Now I take good pictures, rather less badly. How I wish there had been digital cameras when I was a teenager. My cycling expeditions around France, and then Scandinavia, and then Iceland, would have been far more fun, and now far easier to remember. The old cameras, with “film” in them, were ridiculous. You had to “develop” all the damn pictures, very expensively, just to find out that about three of them weren’t total crap. But you tell young people this nowadays they think you’re mad. And if you did all this, guess what, you were mad.
I have never shared the contempt that most people show - or pretend to show - for Adolf Hitler’s paintings. Okay, so they aren’t Rembrandts, but even so, I would have loved to have been as good hand-done picture-making as he was. Could it be that people just can’t bear to accept that he ever did anything well or anything good? Just a wild guess.
My journey from home to Quimper in Brittany involved a nervewracking change in Paris. I only had an hour and a half to get from Paris Nord to Paris Montparnasse, during which time I had to buy a Metro ticket as well as do the actual journey. The Metro ticket was the scary bit. The Metro ticket selling system at Paris Nord is or at least looked that day like in-your-face fuck-you nationalisation, on full throttle. Three windows for selling. One imperturbably relaxed seller, at one open window, like in a British high street bank of the sort that is bullying you to do everything online. A queue like something in old Moscow when a meat shipment was rumoured to have arrived, caused by two trains having just arrived at Paris Nord, mine being one. Luckily there was also a slightly shorter queue for a machine, and by begging help from the lady in front of me, I managed to extract a ticket from the machine, and I then sped to Montparnasse. On the way back, I will buy a ticket on the train from Quimper to Paris, which I can apparently do. I will have four hours to make that work. Should be enough.
At Montparnasse, I of course had an hour to kill, and although I had a good book with me, I killed the hour by taking photos like this:
That was taken quite high up in the Montparnasse station, through thick glass, hence the linear interruption and the yellow reflections. But, being high up, I got a better view of a little of the magnificent roof clutter that Paris offers. Those chimneys, with their pointy tops like something in a fairy tale book, are unlike anything I have seen or at any rate noticed in London.
Here is another picture which I took just before the one above:
Here we see a roof clutter refinement which I do not recall seeing in London much either, namely an illuminated sign right in front of whatever other roof clutter is behind it, advertising the business down below. Given how I adore roof clutter and am also very fond of signs, this photo gave and gives me deep pleasure.
In among more formal expeditions to local beauty spots, I have got to walk around a bit in Quimper, of which I am very fond. Back from some walk on the beach, somewhere or other, I had my hosts drop me off in the centre of town and I walked back in the amazing late afternoon sunshine.
In among much else, I took more roof clutter pictures, like this ...:
… and this:
The first is good because it shows more chimney pots. The second I include for artistic impression. I just like how it looks.
But what interests me about this clutter, aside from mere prettiness, is that whereas the chimney pots seem to be specific to France, the electronic stuff is the sort of thing that I recognise from the UK. It would appear that a TV aerial is a TV aerial, anywhere in the UK or France. Ditto a satellite dish. How much do these things vary in the rest of the world?
I have swapped one kind of computing confusion, too complicated even to describe, for another, and am now using a French keyboard, but telling the computer I am using that this keyboard is really British. This means various letters on the keyboard being in the wrong place, such as the Q and the A, which are where the A and the Q ought to be. There are other confusions, of a more serious sort.
This is a very peculiar experience for a touch typist like me, because it means that I can now only touch type. I cannot pause and go find the correct letters, because I do not know them, or not the ones that cause all the trouble. Only my fingers do.
So it is touch typing, or no typing at all.
Which is better than French typing, but still very imperfect, because some of the regular British things are things which my fingers are not that good at, most notably inverted commas, both single and double. This is why I said it is in the previous paragraph rather than abbreviating it, and why I am saying it is in this sentence, twice, without any inverted commas to indicate that I am quoting myself.
I seem to recall that faced with this dilemma on a previous French expedition, I had to make do with the computer recognising the French keyboard I was using as French, which meant switching As and Qs, etc. The alternative arrangement is somewhat better, but only somewhat.
Luckily my fingers know how to do two important things, neither of which are in the same place on these keyboards, namely commas, and full stops.
Another oddity is that the spellchecking in my blog input process demands that all words be recognisably French, and so underlines most words, because of them not being French, thus rendering itself inutile, and yes that is how you spell inutile. But, sorry about all the other spelling errors in this.
I am able to keep on posting each day, but it is proving tricky. So best to expect interruptions during the next few days. I have taken tons of photos, over the course of two cloudless days, but posting any of them is really complicated, and even telling which are the good ones is hard because the screen I am trying to use is too vague for me to tell properly.
To add to those woes, the text posting process has a bizarre quirk on this computer, or maybe it is with this mouse. Which is that the cursor is liable, without warning, to jump back several words, which makes touch typing as hard as it is usually easy. As soon as I get up any speed, I find that I am typing stuff in the wrong place, as I just did in the middle of the word “stuff” back there. Then it did it again. (Inverted commas are a struggle too.)
I guess it’s called home advantage. I have not now got it. So I am, as of now, more than usually definite about promising nothing, because nothing is what you may very well get until I am back home, and back enjoying home advantage.
When in France, I have no particular desire to do as the French do. I have my own agendas. So, for instance, French people do not make a point of photoing French posters advertising British or American films in the Paris Metro. But, I like to do this:
I am using an alien computer. Contriving the above photo-display took some doing. Were I using my own computer I might have cropped that photo. As it is, it is as it was when it came out of my camera.
Mostly, I just like the thought that we are making movies that they consider good enough to show in Paris. But I think I am also interested in what sort of picture of my country they are seeing. I’m guessing it is one that they want to see. In this case, for example, they are see us Anglos being, although quite good looking, also boring, disgusting, uncultured and gross, and generally behaving like people upon whom wealth is wasted. Not wanting to see Anglos in this light myself, I have not seen this movie, so I may be entirely wrong about what it is like.
But if it is not like that, they shouldn’t have called it that. As a general rule, it is surely good business to take your movie look in the posters (and sound in its title) the way it actually is, because that way the people who will be attracted to it by the poster will then enjoy it, and the word of mouth will be good. Many a movie is not what they first advertised it as, and hence was denounced by its early audiences, but was good in some other way, and ended up appealing to quite other people. Had they advertised it more accurately to start with, they’d have done better business.
Indeed. Tomorrow I will try to post something more substantial. But as for today, I’m afraid, a posting saying that that is it is it.
Something a lot of people don’t get about rather small and incremental improvements is that even if they don’t mean anything to you (by which I mean to them) they can definitely mean something to someone, and potentially a great deal, and to quite a lot of someones. My understanding of economics is that this is one of the most basic ideas embodied in it. (The notion even has its own intellectual revolution: the Marginal Revolution.)
A price increase of around fifty pence for something costing, say, thirty quid may not seem much, and it may not change your behaviour. But for some people this will be the proverbial straw that changes a light bulb to parsnips, the difference that makes all the difference.
Consider these slightly new, slightly snazzier trains, that have been announced by Eurostar, to replace their existing trains, next year. Their front ends, so we are now being told, will look like this:
The Evening Standard (where I found all these pictures) tells us that these new trains will slash the journey time from London to Paris, but it neglects to reveal by how much. Google google. Here we go. The Daily Mail supplies the answer to this obvious question. It turns out that the journey time from London to Paris will be “slashed” (their word too) by … fifteen minutes.
But this posting is not (see above) a rant about how little difference this will make to most people. It is a rant about how much difference it will make to some people. For some people this fifteen minute reduction will make the difference between being able to go to Paris in the morning, get the job done, and then return to London that same day in time to read a story to a daughter. Or … not. Connections just missed will turn into connections just made, and fifteen minutes (doubled for the two journeys) will stretch out into something more like two hours.
Not for most people. Just for some people. And when you consider how many people might or might not choose to use Eurostar, depending on considerations like the above, that “some” people turns out to be really quite a lot of people.
In short, fifteen minutes does make a difference.
Or consider another small improvement that these new trains will involve, this time an improvement measured not in minutes but in inches.
Here is how the new trains will look on the inside:
Now that may not seem very interesting. But it interests me greatly. It’s been a while since I travelled on Eurostar, but my abiding memory is of how small and cramped and dreary the interior of the carriage was. For such a supposedly twenty first century experience, the whole thing had a very twentieth century feel to it, in a bad way. The above picture immediately makes me think that these new trains will be a significantly more spacious and less soul-destroying experience than the old ones, the old ones that I will still be partaking of when I journey to France and back, just after Christmas.
Judging by this photo ...:
… it would appear that they have done to the design of the Eurostar what they have also been doing to some of the trains in the London Underground. These new London tube trains now bulge outwards, over the platforms. Not by much, but by just a bit, just enough to make a real difference to the inside.
A few days ago, I overheard a conversation between some out-of-towners who were enthusing about the new and wider tube trains that were recently introduced on London’s Circle Line. They were rhapsodising. It was like listening to the scripted pseudo-public babbling away on a TV advert, so delighted were these truly regular members of the public about the new train that they and I were travelling on. And I agree with them. Whenever a train that I am awaiting emerges from its tunnel and reveals itself to be one of these new and slightly wider trains, my spirits are lifted.
And that was just inside a tube train. When it comes to Eurostar, we are talking about two hours. Two hours stuck in a dreary little tube, or in a rather less dreary, rather less constricted sort of tube. That is quite a difference. I can easily imagine, when some future decision about a cross-Channel journey presents itself to me, that these extra few inches ("cramped" is all about inches) could be the difference that will be all the difference, to me. At the very least, I will try to give the new carriages at least one try, when they do finally appear.