Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Transport

Tuesday November 13 2018

With blogging, excellence is the enemy of adequacy, and often what you think will be excellence turns out not to be.

Eight days ago now, Patrick Crozier and I had one of our occasional recorded chats, about transport this time.  Train privatisation, high speed trains and maglevs, robot cars, that kind of thing.  I think it was one of our better ones.  We both had things we wanted to say that were worth saying, and both said them well, I think.  Patrick then did the editing and posting on the www of this chat in double quick time, and I could have given it a plug here a week ago.  If I have more to say about transport, I can easily do other postings.  But, I had some stupid idea about including a picture, and some other stuff, which would all take far too long, and the simple thing of supplying the link to this chat here was postponed, and kept on being postponed.

Usually, this kind of thing doesn’t matter.  So, I postpone telling you what I think about something.  Boo hoo.  But this time I really should have done better.

There.  All that took about one minute to write.  I could have done this far sooner.  Apologies.

Sunday November 11 2018

Yesterday, I went on a shopping expedition which involved boarding a train at Charing Cross, which I planned to reach by going first to St James’s Park tube.

The first of the photos below (1.1) is of a taxi, parked close to where I live, with some sort of poppy related advert on it.  I like to photo taxis covered in adverts.  Temporariness, the passing London scene, will get more interesting as the years pass, blah blah.

Then, in Strutton Ground, just this side of Victoria Street, I encountered two besuited gentlemen wearing military berets and medals.  I photoed them both, with their permission, and I post one of these photos here (1.2), also with their permission.  Sadly, the other photo didn’t come out properly.

It was only at this point that I realised that, the following day (i.e. today) being Remembrance Sunday and what’s more the exact one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice of November 1918, London in the Westminster Abbey area would already be awash with Remembrance Sunday photo-ops.  My shopping could wait a while, and I turned right down Victoria Street.

The seven other photos below mostly involve small wooden crosses and dead autumn leaves - autumn 2018 arrived at Peak Dead Leaf yesterday - but they also include another poppy related advert, this time on a the side of a bus (3.3), which I photoed in Parliament Square:

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Sadly, the plasticated documents referring to “British Nuclear Test Veterans” (2.1) were insufficiently plasticated to resist the effects of the rain.  It began to rain some more when I was arriving at Charing Cross station and it did not stop for several hours, so I’m guessing these lists suffered further rain damage.  It’s odd how little sadnesses like this stick in your mind, in amongst the bigger sadnesses being remembered.

The autumn-leaves-among-crosses photos, all taken outside Westminster Abbey, are but a few of a million such that must have been taken over this weekend, in London and in many other places.  Is it proper to include two mere advert photos, even if they are poppy related adverts, in such poetically symbolic and dignified company?  I chose to do this because one of the things I find most interesting about these Remembrance remembrances is that, as each year of them passes, they don’t seem to be getting any smaller.  People still want remember all this stuff, even though all the veterans of World War 1 are now gone.  Hence the adverts.  If the adverts didn’t get results, they’d not be worth their cost.

As to why these remembrances continue to be remembered, and by such huge numbers of people, year after year, I think one reason is that each political tribe and faction can each put their own spin on the sad events being remembered, but in the privacy of their own minds.  For some political partisans, these ceremonies and symbols are a chance to wallow in the pageantry of patriotism.  For others, they are an opportunity to rebuke such nationalists, for stirring up the kinds of hostility that might provoke a repeat of the sad events being remembered.  “Patriotism” and “nationalism” being the words used to salute, or to denounce, the exact same sentiments.  But declaring red poppies to be a warning that the defence budget should be increased, or that they are anti-Trump and anti-Brexit symbols that Trump supporters and Brexiteers have no right to wear, would be too vulgar and partisan, so on the whole this kind of vulgarity and partisanship is not indulged in, not out loud.

The phenomenon of the political meeting where all present hear the same words but where each understands them to mean different things – I’m thinking of such words as “Britain”, “freedom”, “democracy” and “common sense” – has long fascinated me.  Remembrance ceremonies remind me, on a larger scale, of such meetings.  I attended many such little political meetings myself before I decided that mainstream politics was not for me, and switched to libertarianism, where meanings are spelt out and arguments are had rather than avoided.

For less obsessively political people, Remembrance ceremonies and symbols are simply an opportunity to reflect on the sadness of history in general, and in particular the sadness of the premature deaths of beloved ancestors – or, perhaps worse – hardly known-about ancestors.  We can at least all agree that premature death, in whatever circumstances, is a sad thing to contemplate.  And until young men entirely cease from dying in wars, Remembrance Sunday will continue to be, among other things, a meaningfully up-to-date event.

And so, year after year, these ceremonies continue.  Will this year’s anniversary come to be regarded as Peak Remembrance?  We shall see.

Monday November 05 2018

Incoming from Darren:

Took this photo a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t help think of you. …:

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… I didn’t discover that the photoer had been caught in the picture until later. Taken from on a train while going through Blackfriars station. As you can probably tell, it was just taken using a phone.

I emailed Darren back, saying I’d feature his photo here.  He then said that I shouldn’t feel in any way obligated to do this.  He just thought I’d like the photo.

I thought about why I was so glad to receive this photo, and so keen to show it here, along with what he says about it.  I think the reason is that Darren clearly “gets”, as they say, this blog.  He gets that I am fond of the unfolding and ongoing drama of the architecture of central London.  He gets that I notice how others like to photo London, too, it’s not just me.  He gets that I am fond of the new Blackfriars railway station, straddling the river the way it does, and that I love the sort of views you can see and photo from it.  And, Darren gets that I am deeply impressed by the photographic prowess of mobile phones.

He even refers to his photographer as a “photoer”.  Until now, that was just me.

Thursday October 25 2018

Whenever I see a taxi with an interesting advert on it, I try to photo it.  To recycle what I said in this, there is something especially appealing about a large number of objects, all exactly the same shape, usually all decked out in the same bland colour, but each one instead decorated differently and very colourfully.

It would appear that I’m not the only one.  Further evidence that taxi adverts count for more, per square inch, than other adverts do, comes in the form of the meme war that this taxi and its advert is now provoking:

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The CEO of a plumbing firm has announced that his company will be paying a delivery driver to ride around London in a taxi emblazoned with the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’.

Social media gobbled this up, of course, and the responses were not long in coming.  There was this:

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And then this:

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And there will surely be many more.  I hope I chance upon the original, and get a go at photoing it myself.

More taxis with regular adverts will definitely follow here, as soon as I get around to it.

LATER: And, as I should have mentioned sooner, my friend from way back, financial journo Tom Burroughes, is giving a talk this Friday,tomorrow evening, at my place, about Brexit and all that.  I anticipate a more subtle and more elevated discussion than the one on these taxis.

Monday October 22 2018

Yes, here’s Bartok (again), from a slightly different angle, so that the tube station is right behind him:

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A regular bloke in the street.

But now look at this.  Same view, but with three newcomers, down at the bottom:

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The statue of Bartok is a lot nearer to me that you perhaps assume, and crucially, those tiles look like bricks but are actually bigger than regular bricks, which makes this scene look a lot smaller than it really is.

Which is why the additional ladies at the bottom of the second photo really are so very small.

Photos taken by me yesterday.

Saturday October 20 2018

Again with the maybe-betrayed-confidence-but-I-hardly-think-so routine.  Michael Jennings tells me and whoever else he told, on Facebook, that he liked this Forbes piece, about how Digital Currencies And Credit Cards Have Subways To Thank For Their Existence.

Quote:

The following century ...

… i.e. the twentieth century …

… saw an explosion in urban populations, and a requisite growth in the world’s railway network, but this was not accompanied by a substantial changes in the world of ticketing. Manually-operated entry gates to train stations had slowly become more common, but most public transport passengers continued to rely on bits of paper – or occasionally, metal tokens – to get around their city.

In 1950s London, this was starting to cause problems. The Tube network was bigger and busier than ever, which prompted operators to consider installing automated gates, like those in NYC. “We knew that this would help ease congestion, but it was complicated by the fact that London has always had fares based on distance,” Shashi Verma, Chief Technology Officer of Transport for London (TfL), told me, “Standard metal tokens weren’t an option.” So, the then-named London Transit Authority started looking at alternatives. The result, which was released to the world in 1964, was the printed magnetic stripe. The idea of using magnetism to store information had been around since the late 1800s, and magnetic tape was patented in 1928 by audio engineer Fritz Pfeulmer. But transport was its very first ‘real-world’ application. A full decade before the now-ubiquitous black/brown magnetic stripe was added to a single bank card, it was printed onto millions of tickets for the London Underground.

I miss Transport Blog.  The old link to it no longer works, and it would appear that it is no more.

Friday October 19 2018

More and more of my photo-time is spent collating the photos I have already taken.  Last night, for instance, I went looking for (more) photos of London taxis with adverts on them.  There is something especially appealing, to me anyway, about a large number of objects all exactly the same shape, but each decorated differently.  (Some time, I must go searching for my photos of elephants.)

Equally appealing, to me, were those Gormley Men.  In that case, each Man was the same, and undecorated in the more usual and rather bland sculpture way.  But, each one was in a different place and a different sort of setting.  My Gormley Men photos did not need collating, because Gormley had already collated them, by putting all his Men in the same part of London at the same time.  Therefore my photos of the Gormley Men mostly collated themselves.

Not so the elephants, or taxis.  When looking for taxis, I am looking for taxis photoed in the course of all manner of different photo-expeditions each with their own directories.

But my point is that in the course of all this taxi-collating, I was clicking through literally thousands of non-taxi photos, and I kept coming across non-taxi photos that I particularly liked.  Like (kike as in “such as” – this is not a command) this one, for instance, taken last June:

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I like doing modified cliches in writing, and I also like them photographically.  A view, for instance, of some London Thing that has been photoed to death, but put beside or in front of or behind something that is not so usual.  Most photoers would regard the above scaffolding as a problem rather than any sort of solution, to the Eros-has been photoed-to-death problem.

The scaffolding’s wrapping has the effect of clearing away all the usual clutter from Piccadilly Circus and replacing it with something a lot like sky on a dull day.  It puts Eros in an empty field in the countryside, you might say.  And yes I know, I like clutter.  But not always.

Here is another modified cliché photo:

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The Wheel has been photoed to death, and that’s a view I regularly see – and regularly photo - of it, from the point where Strutton Ground meets Victoria Street, looking down Victoria Street towards Parliament Square and beyond.  But that sky behind The Wheel made The Wheel look amazing, on that particular day in January of this year.

Finally, one of many photos I took this year of Battersea Power Station:

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The Power Station and (if you are a craniac like me) its crane cluster are the clichés.  And if you want to take the sting out of a cliché, one way is to reflect it in something.  At that point its extreme recognisability becomes more a virtue and less of a bore.  Its very clichéness becomes helpful to the photo.

This photo was taken from the upstream side of the Power Station, where there is already a big chunk of new flats up and running, with accompanying tasteless sculpture, coffee serving places and the like.  All sparked, I believe, by the new USA Embassy.

This photo of mine turns Battersea Power Station upside down.  I’ve always thought that an upside down Battersea Power Station would make a rather good table.  But, until now I never thought to go looking for such a table on the www.  Here we go.  That took about three seconds, so I bet there are plenty more that are cheaper.  This guy had the same idea, but those two links were all I could quickly find concerning this notion.

Here is another modified cliché photo of Battersea Power Station, the modification this time being smoke.

Come to think of it, all those London taxi photos I’ve been digging up are also modified cliché photos, aren’t they?  London taxi = cliché, adverts = modification.

Monday October 15 2018

Here are what I suspect to be some wise words, from Rob Fisher, in a comment on this Samizdata posting I recently did about Facebook’s political bias:

Facebook is for cat pictures, baby photos and holiday photos. I recently posted some photos of some old model trains I have and another friend offered to give me some old toy trains they don’t want any more. That’s what it’s for.

People trying to do politics on Facebook serves only to demonstrate how unsuited it is for that purpose.

That’s comment number 42, and very possibly the last word on the matter.

Like I say, this sounds wise, in the sense that it seems to contain an important truth, even if it doesn’t really sound like the whole truth.  After all, I just did another posting here about something political which I first heard about on Facebook.

Here is a photo of Rob’s toy trains that he recently posted on Facebook:

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Am I betraying a confidence, meant only for Rob’s Facebook friends?  Hardly, since Rob has already mentioned his trains on the Mainstream Media, in a comment at Samizdata.

It occurs to me that I have some toy trains that Rob might like.  Like because I think they are N gauge, but perhaps something even smaller.  Rob, if you read this, take a look at them next time you visit me.

Saturday October 13 2018

Three photos I took this afternoon, in quick succession, from a moving train:

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Such photos seldom come out very well, what with all the movement and the reflections in the window.  But these did, I think.

I remember thinking, when it became clear what these two Big Things were going to look like, that although each looked okay separately, that they would make a rather discordant pair.  But as with almost all such Big London architectural eccentricities, I soon got used to this contrast, and now like it a lot.

Friday October 12 2018

Somewhat over a year ago I wrote about When what I think it is determines how ugly or beautiful I feel it to be, in connection with this building:

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This is described, at any rate by its owners and its various occupants, as The Peak.

And that photo of mine above, taken from the top of the Westminster Cathedral Tower, is my Peak photo which best illustrates the oddly deceptive appearance of this decidedly odd-looking building.  It looks like a 60s rectangular lump, to which 90s or 00s curvatures, on the right as we look, and on the top, have been added.  But, as I discovered when concocting that previous posting, the whole thing was built all at once.  It looks like a two-off building rather than a one-off building, but looks deceive, or deceived me, for a while.  Two-off good, one-off bad, was how I had been thinking.  It was two-off, so (aesthetically) good.  Organic, additive, blah blah.  But, what was I supposed to think, on discovering that it was really an inorganic and un-additive one-off?

Now, buried in my photo-archives, I find this photo, taken on October 28th 2008, which confirms that The Peak is indeed a one-off, because here it is (here it was), all being built in one go.  There really is no doubt about it:

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When I took this photo, I was a lot more interested in the anti-pigeon spikes on top of those street lamps, and on top of the railway sign, than I was in the building work in the background.

How I now feel about The Peak, aesthetically, is that I still rather like it, if only because I have paid so much attention to it over the years, and feel sort of proprietorial towards it, as you would towards a somewhat clumsy child that you have adopted.  (That feeling applies, for me, to a great many London buildings.)

Also, whatever else you think of it, when you see it, you at once know where you are.  It is very recognisable, recognisability being a quality in buildings which I appreciate more and more.  “Iconic” is the rather silly word that estate agents and suchlike use to allude to this quality.  But they have a point, even if they use a silly word to point to their point.  That “you could be anywhere” feeling is not a good one, in a city or anywhere else.

“Other creatures” (see below) because of the pigeon scaring.

Wednesday October 03 2018

This:

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Photoed by me last night.  And explained here.  The Metropolitan Line came up with this logo just after the regular London Underground logo was devised.  Now this version of it survives,but only on platforms at Moorgate that are no longer used.

Weird.

In the twentieth century, weird is all it would have been.  Then forgotten.  Just another of life’s little mysteries.  But, in the age of the internet, there are no little mysteries.

Tuesday October 02 2018

Photoed by me last night, at Blackwall DLR station:

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It’s not really that of course.  It’s just that I have learned that one of the best ways to photo a sunset is to photo railway tracks that are disappearing into it.

Friday September 28 2018

TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.

First word in this, which is about piles.  IL more about piles here and here.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Thursday September 20 2018

To me, nothing says Abroad quite like a poster, somewhere in Abroad, advertising an English speaking movie, whose English title I already know, with a foreign title that is different, but with all the same star names:

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La Taupe means The Mole.  I preferred the TV series, but I love this poster.  Photoed by me in Paris in February 2012.

As was this, on the same expedition:

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In the same directory, I encountered other photos of posters advertising the following movies: Drive (Ryan Gosling), Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage), Underworld (Kate Beckingsale), and Star Wars Episode 1 (whoever).  But in those posters, the titles stayed in their original English.  Why?