Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Brian Micklethwait on "Real Democracy Now" in Parliament Square this afternoon
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Six Thousand on Some batsman – some neck
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Brian Micklethwait on Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square
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- “Real Democracy Now” in Parliament Square this afternoon
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- Two pictures of the Shard behind some railings
- Smartphones and tablets at the Charlie Hebdo demo
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Category archive: Bridges
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.
At the end of November 2014 (on the day that I also took these photos) I made a small pilgrimage to Tower Bridge, the excuse being that I might be able to photo up someone’s skirt through the observation floor that they had recently installed at the top of that bridge, and the reason being that I simply like to go on random pilgrimages in central London, for the sake of what I might see on the way there, there, and on the way back.
As often happens with these small pilgrimages of mine, I got there not at midday, but towards the end of the day. By which I mean just before and during the ending of daylight. And the ending of daylight is a very good time for taking photos, especially with a digital camera that is good in low light conditions, and especially if you are someone who likes taking pictures of other photographers in ways that don’t show their faces but do show the screens of their cameras. At dusk, those screens tend to show up particularly well, as a number of these photographer photos illustrate:
The more I photo, the more I find myself liking to take categories of photos, photos in sets. At first, my photos of photographers were just photos of photographers. But soon I was subdividing that huge category, into photographers taking selfies, photographers looking at the photos they’d taken. Recently I have found myself making further subdivisions, often of photos I have been taking for some while but which I had not been putting into a separate category in my head, if you get my meaning. So, above, in addition to all the photos of photographer’s camera screens, we see contributions to the photographers taking selfies category (subdivision: couples taking selfies), to the photographers looking at the photos they have just taken category, but also a good addition to the bald blokes taking photos category, and two for the photographers with interesting hats category.
And of course, there is that vast category that has hove into view in the last few years, of people taking photos with their mobile phones. No less than seven of the above twelve snaps are of people doing this. This was not a decision on my part, merely a consequence of me picking out nice photos of people taking photos.
My favourite photo of these is the last one of all, bottom right. The light is nearly gone, but that means that the view of the shot he is taking (with his mobile phone) shines forth splendidly, as strongly as what he is photoing. And I love that I got what he was photoing as well as his screen picture of what he was photoing.
It was the essentialness of posting that one photo, very late but not never, that made me, while I was about it, also stick up the others, all twelve having already been subdivided into a separate little directory.
The gap between my eyesight and the eyesight of my camera grows and grows with the passing of the years, as my eyes inexorably dim and as my cameras inexorably improve. Even I can regularly manage quite decent shots with my latest camera. As a result, I become ever more immobilised by having to choose good ones from the enormous piles of decent shots I often come back with, after a day out.
Yesterday was a bit different. I went to the home of Michael Jennings for a Christmas Day lunch, picture 1.1 being the most striking thing I saw from out of his front window. The day was lovely, but the light, though wonderful, was fast fading, so Michael and our mutual lady friend and I went out for a short (by my photographic standards) walk to take advantage of it. Which meant that I took, by my standards, only a few pictures. Which made it easier to choose and stick up a few half decent ones.
Picture 1.2 is my favourite of these. Thank God for London’s religious diversity. Much as I loath what Islam says in its holy scriptures, and much as I am critical of people who go through the motions of worshipping these writings, either because they truly believe what those writings say (very wicked), or because they don’t but think that they it doesn’t matter or that they must (also wicked – yes, I mean you, Moderate Muslims – stop saying that you believe stuff that you also say that you don’t believe), I do like that having Muslims in London keeps shops open and taxis running on days like Christmas Day. Michael fixed a couple of Uber taxi rides for me, and both the drivers had Muslim sounding names.
I don’t know what the church is in 2.1 but it looks pretty behind that leafless tree. And Tower Bridge always looks pretty to me.
Re those two Tower Bridge shots, I’ve always liked how digital cameras do the opposite of the human eye, and turn urban skies bluer and brighter as they actually get darker. It’s all those orange-coloured artificial lights, burning relatively brighter as the sun sinks, together with the actual darkness on the ground, impinging upon the Automatic setting.
This morning I had reason to be in the vicinity of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at about 10 a.m. Later you will learn why, but in the meantime, just to say that this uncharacteristically early-in-the-day expedition enabled me to reacquaint myself with an old friend, in the form of the delightful footbridge that allows the ballerinas of the Royal Ballet School to make their way to the Royal Opera House, without having to risk being damaged by traffic or by the public:
The ROH is on the right there. I like how the squares in the bridge echo the strong right angles of the building and its roof details.
I also like the blue sky. But, you think that’s a blue sky? That’s not a blue sky.
This is a blue sky.
Today I went walkabout in the City of London with my friend Gus, father of Goddaughter 1. This evening I found, for the first time, this short video interview at the Arup (his long time employer) website, done with Gus in 2010.
Here are four vertical favourite-photos I took:
On the left, Gus shows me a magazine picture of the Cheesegrater, taken on a much nicer day than the day, cold and windy, that we were having to put up with today. Next in line is one of those Big Things seen through a gap in the foreground shots, but with a difference. This time, there are two Big Things involved. There is a sliver of Walkie-Talkie on the right, and then way beyond it, you can see the Shard. Then, we see Gus joke-propping-up the miniature Lego Gherkin that is to be seen next to the regular Gherkin. On the right, Gus looks up at something or other, this being the best snap I did of him.
Now for all my favourite horizontals.
I’m too tired after all that walking about in the cold to say much about these pictures, but see in particular 2.1, which is, I’m pretty sure, some of the bolts, a few of which recently disintegrated. Now they are having to check all such bolts, and there are a lot.
1.1: Mmmm, cranes. Grim day, well done my recently acquired camera, good in low light conditions.
1.2: Canon Street tube. Designed like a bridge, said Gus, ace bridge designer, because under it there are tube lines which it is built on top of, like a bridge. This is the building I asked about in an earlier posting here.
1.3: I included this because of the sign saying “all inquiries”. All? You know what they mean, but there is fun to be had on the phone with this sign.
2.2: A Gherkin detail, is there because I said, when I saw it, that looks rather plastic. And guess what, it is plastic.
2.4: Shows us the Lego Gherkin in front of the Actual Gherkin
3.2: A more fun picture of Gus, featuring also: me, in the right hand purple circle.
3.3, 3.4, 4.1: All the Walkie-Talkie.
4.4: For scaring pigeons, something you seldom see from above. I saw this particular cluster of pigeon scarers while descending a staircase at Liverpool Street station. That last was the very last photo I took.
When I emerged from Pimlico tube, near my home, I was amazed at how dark it had become, at a quarter to four in the afternoon. Like I say, my new camera really did the business today.
Sorry for all the cock-ups and mispronts in this posting. I’m knackered and am now going to bed.
Do you remember The Navy Lark? Used to be on the radio. In it, I seem to recall Leslie Phillips, playing a young (that already dates it) sub-lieutenant, who used, from time to time, following a marine mishap, to say:
But, I can find no mention of this particular catchphrase in all the various Navy Lark sites, so maybe I invented it, and am remembering only how Leslie Phillips would have said this, had he ever done so.
Anway: Oh clang. Someone just dropped a bear bottle on that glass floor they installed only a fortnight ago at the top of Tower Bridge, and shattered the glass.
I did not see that coming. I thought glass for that type of thing was now strong enough to resist a falling small car totally unscathed, let alone a mere beer bottle. I thought that expensive glass like this only now shatters in movies. In real life, I reckoned until I read this, you now bounce off it, unless it is extremely ancient, as does a beer bottle. Apparently not. (Did the bottle break, I wonder?)
It appears that this breakage was, as it were, deliberate, in the sense that the beer bottle broke only the top ("sacrificial") layer of five different layers of glass:
The stunning attraction, which offers visitors a unique, if slightly terrifying view of the road-bridge and River Thames, 138 feet below, was shattered when a member of the catering staff working at the venue dropped an empty bottle while carrying a tray.
The glass floor, which was only unveiled on Nov 10, cracked and then shattered, leaving Tower Bridge bosses with no choice but to cover and close the section of the walkway affected.
Fortunately the design of the walkway, which is made up of five layers of glass in each pane, meant engineers could repair the glass by simply replacing the top layer, rather than the entire thing.
This news first broke, ho ho, on Twitter.
Reminder to self: Must visit this visitor attraction, just to find out what my very zoomy camera makes of it, from below.
Classic photo of photoers (which I found here):
It’s the new see through walkway at the top of Tower Bridge. All the reportage concentrates on what you can see looking down through it. But when I visit, I am going to check out what you can see photoing through it from below. Which will have the added benefit of being far cheaper.
Zoom lenses are rather good these days.
And guess what, I actually want other people to have the same idea, so I can photo them photoing upwards also.
Yes, dezeen (Dezeen?) continues to be a favourite wwwspot for me. Here are some recent dezeen postings that got my attention, for this or that reason.
First, news that there will be a viewing platform on top of the Walkie Talkie:
The Walkie Talkie Skygarden has yet to open and will, I’m sure, come with a catchier name. But already it is in obvious competition with the Shard – pricey versus free, ascetic steel and glass versus sylvan repose, supreme height versus not being able to see the Walkie Talkie. ...
Very droll. The original was about how you couldn’t see the National Theatre from the National Theatre. But me, I am warming to the Walkie Talkie, and I don’t just mean I’m standing under it and being fried. I especially like how it looks from a distance. The point being: it looks like the Walkie Talkie. Not just some anonymous rectangular London lump, no, that particular Big Thing. Yes it is not properly beautiful. But neither is London. Besides which, anything that just might compete down the price of going to the top of the Shard has my vote. I’ll definitely make my way up there, as soon as they’ll let me
Next up, isn’t fun when someone hitherto impeccably cool suddenly turns into Grumpy Old Man:
Speaking to Dezeen, the 85-year-old English designer said tech products like the iPhone and Apple Watch were turning people into zombies, adding: “I’ve got a certain cynicism of Apple and their motives. It’s a bit of a monster.”
“It’s a game they’re playing and it’s an absolutely straightforward, commercial, ruthless game, and it’s dressed up nicely because they’ve got some talented people in their employ,” he said.
Grange, who was knighted in 2013 for services to design, believes that the tech giant has successfully turned Modernism into “good commerce”, using aesthetics to dress up a self-perpetuating product cycle.
“There are probably few companies around now that absolutely answer the prospect that Modernism is good commerce,” he said. ...
Modernism is good commerce? Can’t have that.
… “They’ve been so bloody ruthless that you almost get no choice in the matter.”
“Almost” there means “not”. (See also: essentially, basically, fundamentally, etc. etc. etc.) Because actually, you get plenty of choice about whether to buy Apple stuff or not. Apart from one rather nice keyboard, I never have.
People always talk about the behemoths of capitalism like this, just as they are starting their long slide down into moderate size and moderate success, into business as usual. How do I know Apple is now at the top of that slide? Easy, they are building a custom-designed headquarters. It absolutely yells: from now on, all Apple-persons will talk to each other and keep everyone else out. And what they will be talking about, to an appalling degree, will be their own living arrangements inside this huge circular corporate burial chamber. They’re doomed, I tell you, doomed. Someone tell Sir Grumpy (above) that he can relax.
Next: what a driverless car might look like. Not. But, it looks very pretty. The basic point, that driverless cars will in the longer run utterly transform the look of the outdoors is, I think, a very good one. Maybe that is how some of them will look.
I really do not like the way this floating bikeway along the River Thames looks, in the pictures there. At the very least, I say, find a way to avoid having those obtrusive shapes above the level of the track, which makes it look like an infinitely extended item of tasteless garden furniture. I get it, that crap is there to enable it to float up and down on the tide. Well, find another way to do that.
Next, some excellent photos of the High Line, in New York. I especially like the distant aerial view of it curving its way over the Rail Yards, with the spontaneous architectural order of Manhattan’s towers in the background.
I do like this rectangular block of a house, but with one end lifted up. Usually the rectangular block houses featured at dezeen are impeccably, terminally tedious. But this one, I like. Apart from the fact that whenever the damn architect called round, you’d have to tidy up all your domestic crap all over everywhere, and turn the place back into the dreary corporate office it resembles in the photos. What is it with architects not wanting homes to look, inside, like homes, but instead like some kind of dystopian hell with nothing in it besides a wooden floor?
Here are some impeccably, terminally tedious rectangular type houses, in Japan. To me, by far, by several hundred miles, the most interesting thing about these photos of them is the amazing amount of electrical crap in the sky over the street outside. If I was photoing in Japan, I would be all over that. More Japanese sky clutter here, in photos of another impeccably, terminally tedious block house with an interior that also looked like a corporate office reception area when the photos were taken.
Google drones. Spooky.
Parisian blocks become wavey.
Finally what with this being Friday, some black cats with bronze bollocks. I kid you not.
I departed for France on Tuesday August 5th.
My flight from London City Airport to Quimper in Brittany was due for lift off at 11.40am, so I obviously had to leave home at about 9.20am, thereby reaching City Airport as early as I could without having to pay for the journey. (Old Git passes only cut in at 9.30am, or such is my understanding.) We infrequent flyers can’t be too careful. I would far rather wait two hours at an airport while reading a good book than endure any fear of missing my flight at any point on my journey to the airport, still less actually risk missing it.
One way to get to London City Airport would have been to take the District Line to Tower Hill, and then the D(ocklands) L(ight) R(ailway) from then onwards, with just the one (somewhat complicated) change. But my computer said it would be quicker to change twice, first at Westminster from the District Line to the Jubilee Line, and then again at Canning Town to the DLR. The Jubilee Line is quicker than the trundlingly antique District Line and quicker than the relatively new but cautiously robotic DLR, and it may also have realised that both these changes are far easier than the one change from Tower Hill (District) to Tower Gateway (?) (DLR). So, I changed at Westminster, and again at Canning Town.
All of which explains why, when I got to Canning Town, and was awaiting the DLR train on to City Airport, I got to see this:
I couldn’t believe my luck. I hadn’t even left London, yet already I was beholding once-in-a-lifetime wonders! For yes, your eyes do not deceive you. That is a crane, holding a bridge. I love cranes, especially when they are doing something interesting. I love bridges, especially new ones and especially when they are still being built. So you can imagine my delight at observing a bridge being craned into position, by a crane. And all of this presented to me as if by a performer who is determined to communicate to the maximum effect with his audience, assembled on the top deck of Canning Town Tube/DLR station.
On the left there, the first picture I took. On the right, a later picture which shows where the bridge was about to be deposited. There are two bright red bits, the same bright red as the bridge itself, clearly at each end of where the bridge would shortly be.
All of this happened on Tuesday August 5th. A day earlier and it would not have started. A day later and it would have been a fait accompli, with the installed bridge presumably looking exactly as it looks now. Only by being there exactly on August 5th, and only by choosing the exactly correct railway journey combination, was I able to observe this delight.
(Imagine if I had happened to sale past this, on August 14th 1999.)
My week in Brittany had got off to a great start.
Here is a picture, taken from Lambeth Bridge in March of this year:
This is basically one of those “I just like it” pictures, that I came upon last night when trawling through the archives, although I liked it a lot more after a touch of rotation had been applied. I particularly like the contribution of those leafless trees.
The red brick tower that dominates this scene is something to do with St Thomas’ Hospital, but further googling made me none the wiser about its exact purpose or provenance. It was, it seems built in 1865. Other than that, I could learn little.
But googling did cause me to learn about this other tower, which used to be a hospital water tower and has now been converted into a home.
This sort of modernistic box-mongering can be very dull, when that’s all there is. But put it next to some more ornate Victoriana, and both styles often look the better for it.
That is also part of the pleasure I get from the above photo. Even if ancient and modern buildings are not next to each other for real, they can put them next to each other, with a camera.
I still have more pictures to show you that I took on that Adam Smith Institute Boat Trip.
But this was London, from a boat, on the river. Had there been no people on the boat besides me, I would still have been in Digital Photographer heaven.
In particular, there were also bridges, typically from angles that I had never seen them from before. And what with it being such a very sunny evening, there was that bridge over bright water effect that I do so like, where the light bounces back off the water and illuminates the undersides of bridges:
Those bridges are: Blackfriars Station Bridge, Blackfriars Station Bridge again, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, London Bride again (on the way back), and the Millennium Bridge (the one that wobbled).
What’s that you say? One of these is a shot of an individual, and not a bridge shot at all? Look again.
Inevitably, the categories here (individuals, groups, crowds, photographers, bridges) overlap, if only because, when I do photoing, I like to combine as many as possible of the things I like to photo in one photo. In particular, four of the above six shots are crowd shots as well as bridge shots, and the other two are indeed individual shots as well as bridge shots.
There have also been Big Things to be seen in all these photos, and if you don’t know how much I love to photo those, you are very new here.
From Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik (pp. 80-81):
Given that literally half of the world’s structures are made from concrete, the upkeep of concrete structures represents a huge and growing effort. To make matters more difficult, many of these structures are in environments that we don’t want to have to revisit on a regular basis, such as the Oresund bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark, or the inner core of a nuclear power station. In these situations it would be ideal to find a way to allow concrete to look after itself, to engineer concrete to be self-healing. Such a concrete does now exist, and although it is in its infancy it has already been shown to work.
The story of these self-healing concretes started when scientists began to investigate the types of life forms that can survive extreme conditions. They found a type of bacterium that lives in the bottom of highly alkaline lakes formed by volcanic activity. These lakes have pH values of 9-11, which will cause burns to human skin. Previously it had been thought, not unreasonably, that no life could exist in these sulphurous ponds. But careful study revealed life to be much more tenacious than we thought. Alkaliphilic bacteria were found to be able to survive in these conditions. And it was discovered that one particular type called B. Pasteurii could excrete the mineral calcite, a constituent of concrete. These bacteria were also found to be extremely tough and able to survive dormant, encased in rock, for decades.
Self-healing concrete has these bacteria embedded inside it along with a form of starch, which acts as food for the bacteria. Under normal circumstances these bacteria remain dormant, encased by the calcium silicate hydrate fibrils. But if a crack forms, the bacteria are released from their bonds, and in the presence of water they wake up and start to look around for food. They find the starch that has been added to the concrete, and this allows them to grow and replicate. In the process they excrete the mineral calcite, a form of calcium carbonate. This calcite bonds to the concrete and starts to build up a mineral structure that spans the crack, stopping further growth of the crack and sealing it up.
It’s the sort of idea that might sound good in theory but never work in practice. But it does work. Research now shows that cracked concrete that has been prepared in this way can recover 90 per cent of its strength thanks to these bacteria. This self-healing concrete is now being developed for use in real engineering structures.
Maybe Miodownik is very good at explaining things, or maybe I am just ready to be learning this stuff. Probably both. I chose that excerpt because my average reader may not know about such things as bacteria which automatically repair concrete. But the truth is that I am almost embarrassed by how much I am reading that is new to me, or only vaguely known, as a sort of historical rumour.
I had no idea, to take just one example, who invented/discovered stainless steel, or where, or how. Now, I have a much better idea. The story is told on page 29 of this book, which I heartily recommend to all technological illiterates who would like not to be technological illiterates.
Last Saturday, I was out and about by the river, taking pictures like this one:
But then, I noticed that bird, at the bottom of the left hand tower of Tower Bridge, and started snapping away in a more zoomed wayr than for the picture above. Hence the title of this posting:
I don’t know what brand of bird that is. I do know that it is not one of those avian imposters that calls itself a “crane” (thus clothing itself in dignity stolen from the mighty urban machine of construction), but other than that, I can only guess. A cormorant perhaps?
Pick and click.
Photographing birds properly is not my strong suit. You probably need to know their habits, the way I know the habits of the digital photographer, the one living creature that really interests me.
If, on the other hand, birds were to start taking photographs ...
Yes, here are yet more snaps I snapped on that boat trip. This time they are not of people posing in groups, but of individuals, if not on their own, then photoed on their own by me. Other people are strictly background:
The point of these pictures, for me, is not who the people are, simply that I like the pictures. But, for the record, the one’s whose names I know are: 1.1 Damien, 1.2 Noreen, 2.3 ASI Co-Supremo Madsen, 3.1 Mr Devil’s Kitchen, 3.3 ASI Junior Supremo Sam. If anyone knows others, please comment accordingly.
Once again there is a propaganda message here. As well as adding up to a happy and companionable movement, these people include some very interesting separate, individual people, distinct characters. What I like to think these pictures get across is how clever these people are, as well as good humoured and good fun.
The light in these pictures was not perfectly handled, nor was it in the previous batch of photos from this trip, of people posing in groups. But photoshop (or whatever you personally use) is a wonderful thing, and great pictures can be extracted from very average ones these days with no great strain, the way only fictional spies used to be able to do.
Besides which, I really like 3.2, of the young woman next to the no smoking sign. I think all that light and shadow makes her look really good. Okay, it wouldn’t do as a portrait, and it certainly wouldn’t do as a passport photo, but as a picture in its own right, I like how it came out. She looks intelligent, I think. Not that she didn’t to begin with, but you get my point.
In general, I think it creates a far better photographic atmosphere to have lots of light splashing around everywhere, even if that sometimes makes for somewhat unsightly shadows and badly lit faces. The point is not: these are great photos, artistically speaking (even though some of them are pretty good even from that point of view). The point is: it was a great boat trip, and everyone had great time.
I also think that bridges, which I like for their own sake, make good backgrounds for head shots.
City A.M. has a report about another possible bridge across the Thames, this one being one that will connect Chelsea to Battersea. There is another map here, also showing all the various options for where exactly to put this bridge. And I see that I already mentioned this Chelsea to Battersea bridge idea in this earlier posting.
This makes three new London bridges that are now being talked up, planned, hustled, whatever. There is also the Joanna Lumley bridge, which will go from Temple tube station to across the river from Temple Tube station, or then again maybe not. Both this and the Chelsea to Battersea bridge are footbridges and bikebridges, but they are also forever talking about a big road bridge just down river from City Airport.
If this Chelsea to Battersea bridge gets built, it will be only a dozen minutes (two to three dozen minutes if I want to get close) from my front door, so you can bet that (although I promise nothing) I will be photographing its progress relentlessly.
I hope they make it look good. Bridges can look so great that it is a serious shame when they don’t look great. It’s good that they’re going to have a competition for this one. This, I think, will unleash a contemporary force that is starting to interest me a lot, which is internet informed public opinion. Now, all the various contending pictures of what they might or might not do can get published and talked about beforehand, far more easily than in the years B(efore the) I(nternet). The people who rule the world basically don’t care exactly where, or even if, this bridge gets built, so they are perfectly willing to let its final design be settled by Vox Pop. And Vox Pop, when it comes to bridges, is a force for good, I think. If you are going to spend 8X million quid on a bridge, you might as well spend 9X million quid and make it look really good and distinctive. That’s what I think Vox Pop will say, and for once I agree.
LATER ON FRIDAY (i.e. not the small hours of Friday morning): More bridgery today from City A.M., this time in the form of a plug for that East London road bridge, already mentioned above.