Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Most recent entries
- Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
- A picture of a book about pictures
- To Tottenham (8): Zooming in on some Big Things
- Playing golf versus following cricket
- Quota bicycles
- Another Capital Golf car
- Battersea Power Station then and now and soon
- Timing shits instead of forcing them
- Lincoln Paine shifts the emphasis from land to water (with a very big book)
- Classic cars in Lower Marsh
- Stabat Mater at St Stephen’s Gloucester Road
- A selfie being taken a decade ago
- Gloucester Road with evening sun
- Lea River footbridge
- “Yeah, no …”
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Category archive: Travel
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
How to say that I am at home alone over Christmas without you feeling sorry for me? I can’t do it, but please: don’t. In exchange, I won’t feel sorry for you that you are reading this instead of having “fun”.
Each to his or her own, but I love it that holidays, for me, really are holidays, rather than just burdens of a different sort to the more usual ones. Don’t get me wrong, burdens are often well worth bearing, as when I visit GodDaughter 2’s family in Brittany, and must bear the burdens of living in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar facilities and unfamiliar routines and with the fear of inflicting various sorts of offence and inconvenience upon everyone, with them being too polite to say. But, these are still burdens. This Christmas, as is my usual habit, I have been ensconced in my little snuggery, with no burdens at all.
I haven’t been fobbing you people off with nothing but silly old photos because I’ve been gadding about around town, catching up with friends and family and attending swanky functions. No gadding about. I’ve been fobbing you off with photos because I have been relaxing, even more than usual.
Here’s another silly photo, to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I haven’t found any Merry Christmas messages out in the streets lately, so here is a Christmassy photo that I think I took in Oxford Street, definitely in December 2008:
Which tells me that I was fascinated by Bald Blokes Taking Photos for quite a while before I had worked this out in the fully conscious part of my head. I love how green he is.
On Christmas Day itself I will not be alone, for I am to have a Christmas lunch with friends. This will bring with it the burden of having to travel across London on Christmas Day, which basically means two very long walks. (I don’t know how to Uber, since you ask. I’d rather walk.) If I come across any Merry Christmas messages while walking, and manage to photo them, I’ll pass them on.
That fog and gloom that I mentioned yesterday seems to have been a more than merely local circumstance. It caused Travel Chaos and got national media attention. Follow that link and see pictures of airplanes, trains, cyclists and people, in fog.
Or stay here and enjoy a few more of my foggy photos, or cranes with their tops in the clouds, and roof clutter with more distant roof clutter just that little bit vaguer than usual. Westminster Abbey looking very vague:
Quite a contrast with a day like this.
By the way, that peculiar red spike (2,1) is on the top of the Channel 4 headquarters. And while looking for a photo that includes this spike, I have just discovered that C4 might be about to leave this building and go to Birmingham. Blog and learn.
Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:
That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions. Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well. Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.
In this respect, I am turning into my Dad. When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident? What if, one of us gets sick? What if, the trains are disrupted? We need a plan capable of taking care of everything. I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.
Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.
But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all. Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all. Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing. So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do. My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions. His plans were energisers.
But maybe that’s just me.
I recommend clicking on this:
What’s so entertaining about what you get is how commonplace the building is. How small. How suburban.
Ah, but if you go down to the basement, and if you can persuade them to give you the key to the purple door (which they won’t but you never know your luck), then in the act of entering, you step through a wormhole and find yourself at the huge BIS base that orbits around Alpha Centauri, which is like the Clapham Junction of our part of the Milky Way.
Meanwhile, this deceptively humdrum little place, disguised as a mere space travel fan club, is to be found a short walk across the river away from my home.
I took my photos of this building and its amusing sign on the same day I took this photo and these photos and this photo and this photo. That was a good expedition. Not as good as the expeditions the inner core of the British Interplanetary Society go on, from time to time (think about that), but good.
I already showed here some pictures I took in August, in and from Epsom.
Here is another, which shows the whole of central London:
Click to get that original size, 4000 pixels across, but the sky, as above, removed.
Most of the well-known views of London are from the north looking south or from the south looking north. This is from the south west looking north east. Given that quite a lot of the river, the bit between Vauxhall Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, actually flows south-north rather than east-west, you get some rather unfamiliar ordering amongst the Big Things, with the Post Office Tower, for instance, being quite a way to the left of most other Big Things, on account of it being further “north”, but actually a bit away to the north east. I knew you’d be excited.
Here is what the original shot looked like, with the sky kept in. Not a cloud in the sky. Ah, summer. It’s amazing how abruptly the summer seems to have ended. One moment it’s daylight until nine in the evening, now it’s dark at six, and the clocks haven’t even gone forward yet.
Continuing with snaps taken ten years ago, in Quimper and nearby spots, the French love their Harley Davidsons. Here is one:
And moment later, I zeroed in on one of this particular Harley Davidson’s details, a lady wearing a yellow top and blue trousers, listening to music, with evident pleasure:
It’s not the first time I have photoed a Harley Davidson in France. I still recall this photosession fondly, which happened five years later.
The directory with all the snaps I took in Quimper and surrounding places, ten years ago, contains some fine images.
And some rather weird ones:
Okay, Citroens made of wood is not that weird. Certainly not in France.
But those really rather realistic black baby dolls is something we surely don’t do nearly so much over here. I’m guessing we have too much of a history of what you might call derogatory black dolls, unrealistically racist dolls, and that means that all black dolls are now tainted in our eyes, even much more realistic ones like the ones in that picture. They evoke a tradition and a way of thinking we would prefer not to be reminded of, or worse, to be thought to be perpetuating. When the British are being sentimental about black babies, they do it in those (I think) ghastly charity fundraising telly adverts.
But what do I know? I’m just thinking aloud. Maybe we do have lots of dolls like these in British shop windows, and I merely haven’t noticed them. But, my first reaction when I say these black babies was, as I say: weird. Certainly striking enough to take several photos of.
In September 2006, in other words exactly ten years ago, I was in Quimper, which is in Brittany. And today, looking for a quota photo, I looked through the photos I took on that expedition. As it happens, I was blogging only very lightly at the time, and I didn’t get around to posting many of the shots I took on that trip. Here is one. There’s another in this. And that was about it.
So here, now, is another of the photos I did on that trip:
… I’m a sucker for a photograph which includes a lighthouse, ...
If he clicks on the above shot, he’ll get to just the lighthouses in that shop window picture, a lot bigger. Sadly, the picture, even in its original and unshrunk size, is a bit blurry and hard to decypher, although I could when I really tried.
Neither of the two Bénodet lighthouses - not this one, which is called “Le Coq”, nor the other bigger one - is in that group portrait of lighthouses at the top of this. Even the big one is not big enough, I guess.
LATER: 6k responds, with some dramatic detail about the second lighthouse from the left in the poster. He also explains what the circles mean, which had me puzzled.
Here in London, when a pedestrian sees a red light saying don’t walk across a road, it usually looks something like this:
Or like this:
Those being from the archives.
But yesterday, I was in a place where the corresponding red lights look like this:
Definitely horse-riding country. Although, perhaps strangely, I saw no real horses.
I was in that part of outer London known as Epsom. Having disembarked from a train at a station called Tattenham Corner, I found myself in … Tattenham? … and then kept on for a bit and emerged, just like that, into the open countryside. And I saw things like this:
That being, I’m pretty sure, in the foreground, the actual, original, Tattenham Corner, around which the horses and their riders go, in races.
But if, instead of making your way towards that big grandstand to watch the racing, you instead turn right, up a slight hill, through various clumps of trees, you eventually come out the other side of these trees, and you find yourself enjoying a distant view of London.
I did not come to Epsom in order to photo pedestrian lights or sporting architecture, although I did do this. What I came to Epsom to photo was scenes like this:
And like this:
And like this:
When I took these shots, the scenes I was shooting were so far away that it was very hard for me, with my ever more terrible eyesight, to work out what I was photoing. I only learned that I had photoed The Wheel when I looked at that shot on the screen of my camera and enlarged it, and hey, that looks like The Wheel.
As for Wembley Arch, I do vaguely remember thinking that I saw a shape that might be that, but I wasn’t sure until I got home.
And even then, these distant views of London weren’t that good, on account of being too distant and my non-SLR camera being too primitive. Epsom is a long way away from London.
The above explains, as not promised in the previous posting, why I was in Croydon yesterday. Getting by train from London to Tattenham Corner meant, for me, going from Victoria to East Croydon, and then changing to the Tattenham Corner train.
I half had in mind to break the journey back to Victoria at Battersea Park station, which also has fine views of London’s Big Things, but I slept through Battersea Park, and anyway, it was getting dark.
Today I was in Croydon. Not for long, but I was in Croydon. While in Croydon I took photos.
Like this one, of No. 1 Croydon:
And like this one, of a buildlng which was being modified, but whose name I did not catch:
Why was I in Croydon? I had my reason. More tomorrow, or some day, or maybe never. I promise nothing.
I’ve been suffering from something a lot like hay fever. Yesterday, the doctor gave me some anti-hay-fever spray to spray it with, up my nose, which I hate. My symptoms are: aches and pains that wander around all over the left side of my head. I knew you’d be excited.
But, from the same doctor who wants me to spray chemical effluent up my nose I learned that if you get something stuck in your throat, which is what set all this off, they recommend: coca cola. I did not know that. So last night, when I went out for drinks, someone offered me a drink, and I though, no I’ve had enough (what with the headaches and so forth), but then I thought: yes, get me a coca cola. Apparently it clears out stuff in your throat by dissolving it. How come it doesn’t dissolve your entire mouth? (Maybe it does.) But whatever, it felt like it worked, and I’m drinking more coke now.
Last night, at that drinks gathering, I heard something else diverting.
We were having a coolness competition. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately? That kind of thing. I contributed the fact that my niece is about to become the published author of a work of crime fiction, which is not bad, and which I will surely be saying more about when this book materialises. It will be published by a real publisher, with an office in London and a name you’ve heard of, which intends to make money from the book and thinks it might. More about that when I get to read it. I usually promise nothing but I do promise that, here or somewhere I’ll link to from here. It would be a lot cooler if it was me who had accomplished this myself, but it is pretty cool even from a moderately close relative.
But another friend from way back whom I hadn’t seen for years trumped this, with something which in my opinion made him the winner, not least because he did the thing in question himself.
Remember the Concorde crash in Paris, back whenever it was, just before 9/11. And remember how the other Concordes all got grounded for ever after that crash. What you may not recall quite so clearly is that the other Concordes were not grounded for ever immediately after the crash. That only happened a few weeks later. And my friend told us that he took a trip on Concorde, on the day after the Concorde crash. How cool is that? Very, I would say. There were many cancellations, apparently, but he was made of sterner stuff, which is all part of what made it so cool.
I know, a bit of a ramble. It comes of me being somewhat ill. Illnesses can be cool, I suppose. But this one, which is just uncomfortable enough to be uncomfortable, but which hasn’t actually stopped me from doing things, merely from doing them energetically and enthusiastically, definitely isn’t cool.