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Category archive: Travel

Thursday March 01 2018

A tweet reminded me about this wonderful rant from Louis CK:


That’s the version of it, with dots inserted by him, that Steven Pinker quotes in his new book about the Enlightenment.

Pinker is concerned to explain why increasing affluence doesn’t seem to make everyone ecstatically happy.  Deidre McCloskey, in her Bourgeois trilogy, is fond of talking about how the Great Enrichment has made regular people as of now nearly three thousand percent richer.  So, why aren’t we three thousand percent happier?  Because we don’t seem to be.

Lots of reasons.  First, you are happy not according to your absolute level of affluence, but rather according to how affluent you get to be and how meaningful your life gets to be compared to what you were expecting, and compared to how well everyone else seems to be doing, because that tells you how well you could reasonably have expected to do.  You may well have been raised to expect quite a lot.  Second, although technology hurtles along, for most this hurtling is both pleasing and rather unsettling, the less of the former and the more of the latter as time goes by.  We don’t experience, in our one little life, how much better things like Twitter are than is looking after cows, out of doors, all year round, with not enough food or heating.  What we experience, as we get older, is how confusing things like Twitter are, or alternatively, if we ignore something like Twitter, how demoralising it is that it has defeated us and denied us its benefits.  Or how tedious air travel is, compared to what we’d hoped for rather than compared to a horse drawn wagon in a desert.  Yes, I live three thousand percent better than that wretched cowherd three hundred years ago, and if a time machine took away my life and gave me his life, I’d be three thousand percent more miserable.  But that’s not the same as me being three thousand percent happier than he was.  Happier, yes, definitely.  But not by that much.

It’s because we don’t feel that much happier that Louis CK has to rant, to remind us of how lucky we are.  And that Steven Pinker has to write his book, to make the same point.

But what if progress continues to hurtle forwards?  What if someone reads this posting, centuries from now, and he says: Good grief, those Twenty First Centurions were very easily satisfied.  Five hours to get from New York to California?

It must have been hell.

Tuesday January 09 2018

Yes, panic over.  The situation seemed very bad, but instead is as described above.

Consider this photo, of the roof of the long snakey shed that looks like it’s for growing tomatoes, where the Euro-trains used to arrive and depart from:


I was viewing that in Windows Photo Viewer, but then I found myself simultaneously viewing that same photo in in my photo-editing software, thus:


Do you see?  Of course you do.  Windows Photo Viewer, on the left, has introduced, from nowhere, a cream background, and shoved it behind and into the photo.  On the right, Photoshop(clone) has ignored this cream under(over)lay, and has restored the pure blue of that Waterloo Station roof and has taken the ominous yellow tinge out of the dark grey sky.  The white bits of the roof are back to being white.  Put the photo in some different software for viewing my archives, and it is similarly cleansed of yellowness.  All was well with the original photo, as it emerged from my camera.  Windows Photo Viewer is the problem and the only problem.

So, no panic about my camera.  Just a question about Windows Photo Viewer.  How do I get that to behave itself?  I have worked out how to change the brown at the top and bottom of the photo to any other colour you or I would like.  But can I get it to stop with the cream?  Can I random-punctuation-marks-in-an-angry-little-line.  Suggestions anyone?

Friday December 29 2017

This evening I had a party at my home.  All the people I invite to my Last Friday of the Month meetings were invited, and almost exactly the same number of people showed up as tend to show up for the meetings.  How do they do this?

I am now completely knackered, but it wasn’t the party alone that knackered me; it was … alas, I find that I am too knackered to explain.  Maybe, although I promise nothing, later.

So instead, a quota photo, of Southwark Cathedral not being dwarfed by modernity:


Taken out of the train window, on my way to Hither Green.

Spot the Gherkin.

Saturday December 16 2017

My camera is pretty good, but it isn’t ideal for me.  I only use a bit of it at all regularly, the automatic bit.  So if, on a rainy day, I push, by mistake, some stupid knob on it that tells it to stop being automatic, it stops being automatic.  And, the automatic focussing refuses to work the way it should.  That’s what happened when I thought it had conked out.  It’s fine.  It was simply obeying orders.

I tried photoing the relevant knobs, first with mirrors and then with my mobile, but the results of all that were a blurry mess.  Have you ever tried getting a camera to photo its own arse?  And photoing with my mobile is something I need daylight to do half decently.

I got a much better picture of the back of my camera by going to this.


In particular, I draw your attention to this bit:


The knob with AF/AE LOCK on it needs to be pointing at AFS/AFF, and absolutely not at MF.  MF means, I presume, Manual Focus.  AF means automatic focus.  S and the other F mean whatever they mean.

The problem arose when, in the rain and needing to possess three hands, one to hold my bag and two to operate my camera properly, I try to look at the photo I just took.  That involves pressing the button with the green arrow on it.  To get back to photoing, press DISP.  But, what with all the rain and the confusion and only having one hand to both hold the camera and press the knobs on it, I accidentally pushed the AF/AE LOCK knob, and got it pointing at MF.  By mistake.  I’m guessing this would be why the AF/AE LOCK button includes the word “LOCK”.  And this works a treat.  I know this now.

Anyway, the upshot (metaphorically speaking) of all this is that my camera went from photos like this, just before I met up with GD2 the day before yesterday ...:


… to this, not long after that, after the knob disaster had occurred …:


… and then back to this:


… when I met up with a friend yesterday, in: Hither Green.

So, panic over.

It’s an odd feeling, partially the feeling of massive relief that I won’t have to spend Christmas trying to turn whatever guarantee came with my camera into another camera, and partially the feeling that I am an idiot and that I should pay more attention to the knobs on my camera.  Delight and embarrassment all mixed up together.

This is what Americans would call a “learning experience”, and although often all that this means is “total cock-up”, in this particular case they would be right.

Friday December 08 2017

My journey to St Albans yesterday began rather inauspiciously.  I was changing at St Pancras International, and I had hoped that I might get the chance to view the International bit, with its wide open spaces, Eurostar trains and its mighty roof.  But all I did was follow the signs to “Platform B”, and that weary plod might has well have been at Green Park or Oxford Circus, for all the wide-open-spaced drama there was to be seen.  And then when I was on the train, the scene outside was grim, grey and wet.

But then, I noticed the seats.  The surprising thing about these was that instead of resting on the floor of the carriage, they were attached to the walls of the carriage, leaving the floor entirely unencumbered.  They hovered over that floor with very little visible means of support:


Here are two closer-ups, showing the diagonal compression member that was doing all the worke:


It looked crazy, but it felt as solid as a rock.  Solider in fact, when you consider the state of a lot of rocks you encounter on your travels.

What I think I see here is not so much a design for a railway carriage, as a design of a system for making railway carriages, just the way you want them.  And for changing them, if you suddenly decide you want them to be different.  If you wanted to redo the seating on these carriages, all you would do is undo the linear compartment at the point where the wall of the carriage nears the floor of the carriage, and make whatever changes you want.  Different seats, differently spaced, whatever.  The floor is untouched.  If you want to change the surface of the floor, easy.  When it comes to cleaning the floor, also easy.

I have a nostalgic fondness for the railway carriages of my youth, with their absurdly thick, manually operated doors, that you had to slam shut, and which all had to be shut before the train could depart.  But whereas I genuinely like old cars, I cannot really mourn those old carriages.  These new ones are just so much better.  For starters, they are wider on the inside by about two feet, because the walls are so much thinner and because these walls curve outwards.

I also like how the latest carriages join together in a way that allows people to walk continuously through, thereby easing congestion at busy times.  Here’s a rather good photo from Wikipedia which shows that.  According to Wikipedia there have been complaints about there being too little leg room between the seats, and no miniature fold-down tables.

They have their reasons for imposing such discomforts.  Basically, they want to enable the maximum number of commuters to be able to travel in okay comfort, rather than allow a lesser number of commuters to travel in greater comfort.  Which makes sense.

My point is different.  My point is that if it is later decided, perhaps in response to such grumbles, to switch to having slightly more generously spaced seats, with little fold-down tables, this would be a relatively easy operation to unleash.  Newly introduced carriages could be differently configured with great ease, without needing a totally new design.

There is much to complain about in the modern world, but stuff like this just gets cleverer and cleverer.

Thursday December 07 2017



Opened in 2013.  Still very much open 2017:


Photos by me this afternoon, in St Albans.  Thanks to Darren and family for the hospitality.

LATER: Another blast from the past:


I remember liking that one a lot.

Wednesday November 29 2017

Yes, those horses brought it all back.  My journey out to exotic Tilbury, and its cranes, in the late September of 2013, and then walking along the north bank of the Thames Estuary towards the even mightier cranes of London Gateway.

As often happens on these expeditions, one of the most interesting things I encountered that day was right at the start of my wanderings, in little old Tilbury itself, on a footbridge, over the railway, before I had even got to the Estuary.

When I arrived at Tilbury, I could already see that there were cranes, and that there was a footbridge joining the platforms.  In order to photo the former, I ascended the latter, and got photos like this:


Then I had a wander around Tilbury, and photoed weird stuff like this:


That antenna looks like part of an insect, doesn’t it?  Well, I told you I occasionally like to attempt wildlife photography.

And then I decided that I needed to make use of another footbridge, a little further along the railway line, to get me onto the Estuary side of the line, so that I could get stuck into the real business of the day.


It doesn’t look much, does it?  Just a footbridge.

But then, it started to look a bit interesting:  What are those faces, over on the other side there, not on the bridge itself, but on the approach to it, on the other side?  Graffiti, by the look of things.  But what sort of graffiti?


I walked up the ramp onto the bridge, and on the actual bridge bit of the bridge, there was indeed graffiti.  Plenty of it.  But not graffiti that was in any way out of the ordinary.  It was the usual sort of graffiti, graffiti that says: We own this place, hee hee hee.  At night anway, when normal people are asleep and not looking.  Graffiti that says: You don’t know what this means, hee hee hee.  Graffiti that says, to me anyway: Yes, my life is going to be a pathetic failure, but it’s going to be the fault of the world and how horrible it’s been to me, rather than being in any way my pathetic fault, boo hoo hoo.  I grow increasingly irritated by this kind of stuff, which of course is one of its purposes, to irritate old geezers like me:


Besides which, there are probably art galleries queueing up to get this guy to do his boring stuff indoors, to epater the bourgeousie in the approved art gallery manner and get a write-up in the Guardian.  So maybe this gink will make something of himself after all.  Maybe he already has.  Maybe his day job is doing the accounts for the Tilbury Town Council.

Whatever, so far so boring.

But then, something interesting started happening.  The Gink, or someone, had decided to insert a different psychological attitude into what was going on.  And the Gink, either because he personally wanted to or because someone else had taken him to one side and sat him down, and told him to change his tune, switched from the usual graffitied bafflingness to something clearer, and with a very different psychological vibe to it.  The Metacontext, as Samizdata’s Perry de Havilland would put it, suddenly changed.


What is this?  Making things happen?  Hard work?  Persistence?  Success??? My God, someone has told the Gink that he is, just maybe, the boss of his own life, and that if he tries a bit harder, and takes responsibility for the outcomes of his own actions – in general, if he starts to think a bit differently - he just might truly amount to something.  It’s not definite.  That kind of thing never is, but if you give up and blame everyone else for your failures, failure is definite.

Was that the explanation for what happened next, or did what happen next actually get done first?  I don’t know.  But whatever the story, the story now changed.  On the approach ramp on the other side of the bridge, those faces.  Recognisable faces.  Next to readable messages.  In English.  There are details that tell not-an-art-expert me, so make of this what you will, that that this is the same guy, with the same paintbrushes and spray cans.  The medium is the same.  But the message has suddenly become something else entirely.  The grafitti suddenly becomes of something, in a way that even an old geezer like me can set about understanding.  My shoes are no longer being pissed on by a human animal, albeit one who is clever with a paint brush.  Instead, a truly human human being is communicating with me, in languages that are clearly intended for me to understand:


The first face there, on the left, is Frank Sinatra.

Here are all the others:


Names, with a link to the complete song lyric: Vera Lynn, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Tinchy Stryder, John Lennon, Adam Ant, Madonna, and Peter Kay.

It’s a quirky list, with strange inclusions and inevitable exclusions (Bowie? Stones? Jackson?).  Peter Kay, who merely mimed along to a song sung by someone else, is extremely lucky to make the cut.  But I reckon that’s all part of the fun.

Not all of the above photos are very good.  Some had to be rescued from the general scene and widened, and in one case (Amy Winehouse) made bigger.  Also, shame about the big W on Tinchy’s face.  But, you get the pictures.

If you google “tilbury grafitti” you discover quite a lot.  Apparently a bit upstream from where I went there is a big long slice of graffiti (scroll down until you get to “London’s mega-port” and “The Tilbury graffiti wall” - both well worth reading and following links from), crammed with popular art references, on the estuary wall.  It’s like: someone has a policy, or at the very least an attitude.  You can’t eliminate graffiti, but you can maybe get it to say something a bit less suicidal and doomed.

It isn’t clear yet what effect London Gateway and its nearly thirty massive cranes and its huge “logistics park” is going to have on other big English container ports, like Felixstowe and Southampton.  But one thing is clear.  Little old Tilbury dock, just upstream, may dribble on for a few years, but it is not going to get any bigger.  My guess is it will soon close.  Tilburians are going to have to find other things to do with their lives.  As Lord Tebbit once put it, they are going to have to get one their bikes.  Maybe not as far as to Amarillo, but at least mentally speaking.  What my visit to Tilbury and my subsequent and more recent Tilbury googlings tell me is that at least some people in Tilbury, including some people with enough clout to decide what gets painted on a footbridge, realise all this.

Yes I know, maybe I’m reading altogether too much into a few dawbs on a footbridge.  But, maybe: not.  I definitely intend returning to Tilbury.

Tuesday October 31 2017

The previous posting, with its references to Gaspard de la nuit, had a tenuous Halloween vibe to it.  But do I have any recent photos to show you, with a ghostly or spooky angle to them?

I’m afraid the best I can do is a photo of a sign on the side of a boat that I photoed on the day I also took these photos.

Here is the boat:


And here is the sign on the side of it:


I know.  Not very scary.

Nevertheless, this points to a real problem of living in a canal boat.  Security.  As these boats multiply, and as it becomes more chic to live this way, in a manner often practised by people who are away at work for long periods, so too will the number of thieves who have a go at preying on them.

But on reflection, if I was a thief, I think the above sign might put me off.  It suggests a concern about resisting thievery, and also a certain willingness to think unconventionally.  What if some unsupernatural ghosts have been artificially contrived, to aid in the boat’s defence?  Yes, I think I’d try another boat.

Every little helps.

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:


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:


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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.