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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

Monday June 16 2014

Indeed:

image

Taken by?  No prizes for guessing who.  Country?  “Poland/Georgia”.  Date?  “Jan/Feb” of this year.  That’s what it said in the email.

Sunday June 15 2014

Mick Hartley writes about England’s loss to Italy last night in their opening World Cup game:

Much football punditry has always seemed to me to be an effort to provide a plausible post-hoc storyline for what was to a considerable extent a matter of chance.  … as though the whole enterprise must be made sense of by virtue of the winning team being the team that deserved to win.

Very true.  (I’m guessing that, with luck (ho ho), this book will have a lot more to say about this tendency.) Actually, much of the appeal of football (to those to whom it appeals) is that the “best” team on the day often doesn’t win.  This means that the supporters of bad teams can live in constant hope of upsets.

This also explains why, at the early stages of a season, surprising teams are often at the top of the table.  Later, the law of averages asserts itself inexorably, and the best teams arrange themselves in logical order at the top, and the surprise early leaders sink back into the pack where they belong.

All of which makes something like the World Cup quite good fun.  All you have to do to win it is win five or six of your first six games.  All the best teams have to do not to win is lose one or two of their first six games.  One of the great moments of all World Cups is the one when a Much Fancied Team gets on its Early Plane Home.

What the pundits seem to have been saying about England is that, because the “expectation level” is low, they might do quite well.  The expectation level is low so it’s high, in other words.  My take on England is that they are a fairly bad team, who played fairly well against Italy, and lost, and that they will probably do fairly badly, but you never know, because there are only half a dozen games for each team to play.  I will video-record all of England’s games, such as they are, just in case.  I live in hope of a small series of upsets.

I also video-recorded the Spain Netherlands game, by far the most remarkable one so far.  Will Spain be this time around’s Much Fancied Team early departure home?

And I also videoed the first game, between Brazil and Croatia, with its truly dire opening ceremony.  This was a real collector’s item of awfulness.  What is it about these terrible opening ceremonies, with their meaningless costumes and absurd dance moves?  Witnessing them is like listening to someone talking in a language has only recently been invented - for aliens to speak in a movie, for instance - which consists of no actual words, only meaningless sounds.

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London contained many things I disagreed with, and I continue to disagree with the entire principle of me and all other anti-Olympickers having to pay for the damn thing for the next thousand years.  But at least that ceremony contained stuff that meant something.  Although come to think of it, maybe the only people who understood it was us Brits, and for countless mllions elsewhere, that was also the gibbering of aliens.

Friday June 13 2014

I went on a photo-expedition to Erith, last Tuesday.  Well, strictly speaking, from Erith.  What I did was go to Erith by train, and then walk back along the south side of the river, to Woolwich.

I took about a thousand photos, truly about a thousand, of which the one below was one of the first.  My journey to Erith by train started at London Bridge Station, and this photo was taken at that station, while I awaited my train to Erith.

image

This guy has the full story of this strange circumstance.

First off, he notes, it’s not a V2.  It’s a sixties vintage Atlas booster.  So, what gives?  Someone, he pointed out, is looking after this object, so it must be there for a reason.  But, what reason?

A commenter explains:

It’s advertising the Britain at War experience below London Bridge Station.

And all is explained.  That link no longer works, on account of the Britain at War Experience having now been closed down, on account of the redevelopment around London Bridge Station.  But advertising the Britain at War Experience is how it got to be there.

Maybe the Not-V2 will soon start to look at bit tatty.  It may even vanish altogether.  All the more reason to photo it now.

Thursday June 12 2014

I plan to be going to the land of the foreign people.  Quite soon.  Early August.  The air tickets are already bought.  But, have just discovered that my passport needs renewing.  It gave up the ghost in about February.

Bugger.  Passports are just now being particularly delayed.  Questions are being Asked In The House about it.  So I guess they are now throwing money at the problem.

There is also a throw money at it option for us punters, about an extra hundred quid, which I have in mind to use, just to make sure that all goes well.  But first I have to get a haircut and then I have to get some “passport photos” done.  I know how to take photos of myself.  I do not know how to take “passport photos”.  This is why God invented shops.

Monday June 02 2014

September 18th 2013, Stanford-Le-Hope, late afternoon:

image

I was thinking that this blog is becoming a bit like another, substitute London Daily Photo.  But that isn’t right.  Ham used to report on lots of different London things and London stories.  I keep on photoing the same kinds of things again and again.  Besides which, Stanford-Le-Hope is a bit too far from London to be London.  It’s about an hour out of here by train.

I went looking, of course, for cranes, but the north bank of the Thames Estuary is also pylon spotter heaven.

Wednesday May 28 2014

Goddaughter 2 is at the very early, tadpole stage of becoming an opera star.  She has already been identified as possessing operatic superpowers, but there are, of course, many obstacles for her still to overcome.  So, fingers crossed.

This summer she will be performing at a Festival in Belle-Île, which is off the south coast of Brittany.  Her family, who live in Brittany, are kindly including me in their expedition to see and hear GD2 in action.

Obviously, there is a Festival website, and equally obviously it is basically a French thing, but it also supplies an English translation:

Welcome to the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer.

With much excitement, the preparations for our 2014 season are well underway, with artists from all over the world preparing to travel to Belle-Île to rehearse and perform two dramatic masterpieces, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  Meanwhile the Festival Choir is busy rehearsing Haydn’s sublime oratorio The Creation, heard for the first time on the island.  There will be an orchestral Mozart evening, the ever-popular Ad Libitum gala concert, early-evening recitals by our young artists at the Café Bleu in Sauzon, and a series of masterclasses.

As the excitement builds, we hope you will join our festival family, and be a part of this rich, unique and inspiring season.

Which is fine.  But before reading that, on account of having not at first realised that they offered their own English version of the above, I accepted an offer from a little window at the top right of my screen to do a translation of the French original of the above, with some sort of mechanised-computerised process.

It went like this:

Welcome to the International Opera Festival of Belle-Ile-en-Mer.

The preparations for the 2014 season are progressing well, with joyful excitement.  Artists from around the world are preparing to come to Belle-Ile to rehearse and perform two masterpieces lyric, Leoncavallo Pagliacci and Gianni Schicchi by Puccini which will be donated to Arletty room.  Meanwhile the choir festival works and repeats Creation, sublime oratorio by Haydn, which will be given for the first time on the island, in the churches and the Cathedral of Vannes.  Also on the program, the Citadelle Vauban, an orchestral concert of Mozart and the ever popular concert Ad Libitum.  Finally, two concerts of our talents in the late afternoon at Café Bleu in Sauzon and a week of master classes. 

While riding the excitement, we hope you will join the family of opera festival and be this rich season unique and exciting.

Which I prefer.  It’s actually not that bad.  Most of the mistakes seem to consist of getting words in the order wrong.

The Salle Arletty is mentioned in the original French version, so it also gets a mention in the mechanised English version as a place to which musical performances will be donated.

For the original French version, go here.

My family used to go on holidays to the southern coast of Brittany when I was small, to a place from which you could see Belle-Île, but we never actually visited it.  Expect Belle-Île photos here, when all this happens.  Are you already riding the excitement?

Tuesday April 22 2014

The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia.  Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.

Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.

On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.

This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.

My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.

What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.

Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.

However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.

And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.

And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.

Excellent.  And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice.  Not that the short notice will affect its quality.  If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.

I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten.  But that’s only a guess.

Sunday February 23 2014

Yes, I’m afraid I’ve been doing rather a lot of quota posting of late.

So anyway, here’s the link.

And here is the quota photo:

image

That’s actually one of my more favourite recent photos.  It was taken just before Christmas, in Twickenham, where Patrick Crozier lives, through the window of a shop where they sell … things like that.

I like the water on the window.

Sunday February 02 2014

The other day, I stuck up a couple of pictures I took in Paris, in February 2012.  Here are three more Paris pictures, taken a few days later, from one of the upper floors of the mighty Montparnasse Tower, which is just about the only very tall, modern tower block anywhere very near to the centre of Paris.  My host for the week, Antoine Clarke, had a mate who worked in this building.

I love the photo at the other end of that link, a classic in the Lined Up Big Things genre, the Big Things in this case being the Montparnasse and Eiffel Towers, and behind them, we see, once again the distant Big Things of La Defense.

On the left, I’me looking in the same direction, but instead of photoing the Montparnasse Tower, I am photoing from the Montparnasse Tower, thereby lining up the two things that were in the two separate pictures in the earlier posting, namely the Eiffel Tower and La Défense:

image image image

In the middle of the middle picture is the Big Thing from which my earlier two photos were taken, the Pompidou Centre.  This is not a view I have seen very much.  Usually the Pompidou seems to be photoed from below.  Very impressive roof clutter, even if a bit arty and self-conscious.

On the right, we see the Sacré Coeur in the far distance, and in between, how Paris looks, on a very cold but sunny day.  Paris, untouched during WW2, looks a lot different to London, doesn’t it?

The sky is so dark because actually, the city itself was so bright.

Thursday January 30 2014

Much humour is to be had by modifying a cliché, and something similar applies to photography.  The Eiffel Tower features in many photos.  The chimney pots of Paris, not quite so much.

image

That was taken on February 2nd 2012, from the Pompidou Centre.

I an still stunned by how brilliant my new, cheap computer screen is.  Pictures like this one become hugely better than I remember them first time around, and wandering around in my photo-archives is more enjoyable than ever before.

Here is another picture taken at the same time from the same place.  Also lots of chimneys, though you have to look a bit more closely this time.  But in the background there, La Défense, Paris’s Big New Thing district.

image

What that big dome is in the foreground, I don’t know.  I was staying with Antoine Clarke when I took these snaps, and in fact he was up there with me when I took these.  Maybe he can tell us what that big curvey thing is.  When you take pictures of some big thing, there is a presumption that you do care what it is, but personally, in this case, I don’t really care.  There are more than enough mysterious buildings like this in London to keep me wondering, without me fretting about mystery buildings in Paris.  But maybe you would like to know.

And yes, I am almost certain that is a crane.

One other thing.  This new screen has me thinking that maybe the size of pictures I am putting up here may be a bit wrong.  When you click on the above two, you’ll get them at 1200x900, which is bigger than I usually do, because now my own screen is bigger.  Is this either too big, or too small?  I’d welcome anyone’s opinion on that.

Tuesday January 21 2014

As I said in the previous post, my talk about digital photography at Christian Michel’s last night went well, in the sense of me feeling it went well, and it seeming to be well received.  I occasionally put my sheets of paper down and extemporised upon some point I was making, but mostly, this was it.  No links, no photos, no extras.  (They may come later, I hope, but I promise nothing.) Just the bare text that I read out, complete with all the errors of grammar and spelling, of fact and interpretation, that may or may not be present:

I have given several talks in this 6/20 series, but until now this has been because I have had both questions and answers to offer to the assembled throng.  I have had theses to present, clutches of facts to pass on.

This time I don’t know the answers.  I merely want to know the answers.  What is the impact of digital photography? What is it doing to us?  Since fixing this subject matter with Christian I have made, I think, some progress in arriving at answers, but only some.  Tonight I expect to make further progress.

Luckily, for my purposes, we have all been alive throughout the period of digital photography’s mass use, and have observed it in action, even if we may not always have wanted to.  Has anyone here not taken a digital photo?  Just as I thought.  (It actually says that here.  And this.)

*****

I will start my remarks by quoting a remark made by an American whom I overheard about fifty years ago, on the Acropolis in Athens, the place where what is left of the Parthenon stands.  I was there trying to do some sketching, a skill I never got any good at but spent a few years attempting.  He was doing pictures with his seriously pre-digital camera.  As soon as he had finished photoing, he wanted to leave, presumably to get to his next photoing place.  But his family were enjoying the Acropolis in the morning sunshine.  Said he to his family: “Come on, come on!  We’ll look at it when we get home!”

This outburst captures a great deal about what people object to about digital photography, but it also reminds us that photography, by Everyman as opposed to by professionals, is nothing new.  Digital photography is partly just the intensification of a process that has been in place in our culture for well over a century.  But it is more than that.

Friday January 17 2014

Incoming from Simon Gibbs:

Interesting building

Near the mayors blob

And there was a photograph attached to this message, “sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone”:

image

On the left there, as we look at it, is the Mayor’s Blob that Simon mentions, near the Shard, and a building I am very familiar with, at any rate from the outside.  In the middle, something new, which Simon knew I might be keen to check out.  So, he photos it, and sends it to me. 

Neither Simon nor I are asking anyone to think that this is a good photograph, in the technical sense.  Don’t click on it, because it is quite big enough as is.  Simon is probably a bit appalled that I am even showing it to anyone, even in the almost total privacy that is BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.  But the photo suffices for its purpose, which is not to delight attenders at an art gallery (real or virtual), merely to provide me with information, should I be interested.  (Although actually, this is the kind of thing you often do see in an art gallery nowadays, put there by an artist trying, as most artists must these days, to be contrary.  “Good” photos are so twentieth century, my dears.  Imagine the blurb, as written by this guy.)

I show this casual snap because it illustrates a typical use of digital photography, which is the communication of information, potentially in real time.  Me being so hopelessly twentieth century in my uses of twenty-first century tech, I don’t know when he took this photo.  It duly arrived on my desk, via my clunky old twentieth century desktop computer.  Was it taken only seconds before Simon sent it to me?  Perhaps he can tell us.  But my point here is that he could have.  And like him, I could have been as much on the move as he clearly was, while still as connected to the world as he was.

Here we see photography not as the nineteenth and then twentieth century mechanisation of oil painting, but as a twenty first century amplification of conversation.  “Ooh, Brian might like to see that, snap.  Hi Brian.  Take a look at this.” Try doing that with a twentieth century phone.  You could, in this case, after a fashion, but it wouldn’t be nearly so quick, definite and easy.

I am giving a talk on Monday evening at Christian Michel’s about The Impact of Digital Photography, and this is the kind of thing I will be talking about.

Digital photography was, or so I recall reading recently, invented by NASA, not so much to take photos, as to communicate photos, of other planets from robot cameras on space-ships, back to planet earth.  Yes.

The logical mid-to-late twentieth century end-point of episodes like this, after you have thrown in a big dash of this sort of stuff, is (see above): telepathy.

Thursday December 26 2013

Now on display in the window of a local Oxfam shop, the one in Strutton Ground:

image

Here it is on Amazon.

(Further Amazon thoughts from me here.  The weird thing about Amazon is that it seems, still, to be a hangover from the dot com boom bust era.  It doesn’t make a profit, but still people want to own its shares.  Explanations anyone?)

But back to the latest England Ashes tour, which has become another very tough one.  Day One at Melbourne was hard going for England, not at all like their previous Day One at Melbourne.  And you can bet Clarke remembered that day when he put England in this time around.  This time over, he wanted to knock England over for something like 98, and end the day with Australia on something like 157-0.  At least England escaped that.  They didn’t do terribly badly, just not terribly well.  All the England top five got starts.  Only Pietersen got past 50.  It won’t be enough.  Australia will surely score quicker, get a lead, and win well, again.

Trott broken.  Swann gone.  They’re “playing for pride” now.  The pride, that is to say, of not being beaten 5-0, which they probably will be.

Australia aren’t especially good, and England aren’t especially bad.  But Australia are now definitely better in all departments, and with no interruptions or fluctuations caused by the weather like in England, they just keep on winning and England keep on losing, not just every match but pretty much every session.  Oh well.  Only a game.

England’s problem now is that the formerly great oldies (Cook, Pietersen, Bell, Anderson), are not yet bad enough to drop, and the newbies are not yet good enough.  But, if they don’t drop the oldies, the newbies will never get good.

Sunday December 22 2013

According to Michael Jennings, the Mercedes-Benz W123 is the vehicle of choice for all taxi drivers in Morocco, which basically means that all transport in Morocco other than by means of legs, human or animal, is the Mercedes W123.

Here is a picture of lots of Mercedes-Benz W123s which Michael took on his travels.  They are resting, presumably:

image

Michael was telling Patrick Crozier and me about this iconic vehicle, and just as he was telling us, look what we found ourselves walking right past, on our way to our pub lunch:

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That’s not quite a Mercedes-Benz W123, apparently.  But it is the exact same shape.

One of the things I like to photograph, on my walks, is vehicles that are strange or interesting for some reason.  Another for the collection.

It may not look much like a Volkeswagen, but it sort of is that.  Sturdy enough and mechanically simple enough for it not to break down often, and to be locally mendable when it does.  They stopped making them in the eighties, but they are still going strong.

Saturday December 21 2013

Went out to lunch today, to Twickenham, to dine with Patrick and Michael.

Here are some Big Things, viewed from Vauxhall Station, in today’s lousy weather:

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Cheesegrater, Gherkin, Walky-Talky.  And they now plan to finish the Helter Skelter.

And here are some smaller things, viewed on the way back, up on the new Waterloo Station elevated shopping deck:

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Those two coloured sheep were outside what I assume was some kind of wool-related enterprise, although I did not check.  Googling left me none the wiser.