Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
6000 on UPS drones and drone vans
6000 on Guess what this is
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Peter Chapman on Africa is (still) big
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Most recent entries
- UPS drones and drone vans
- Tim Marshall on the warming of the Arctic
- The outdoor map next to the Twelvetrees Crescent Bridge over the River Lea
- Marc Sidwell on experts
- Guess what this is
- Robots build a bridge
- The Robert Stephenson statue at Euston
- Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
- Shopping Trolley Spiral beside the River Lea
- An Underground sermon
- Rubbish blogging
- Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East
- Opera North’s Ring
- An important game and only a game
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we make money not art
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This and that
As of yesterday, it remains true that the Shard is definitely being built:
Some recent Guardian Shard blogging here. He likes it too. Perhaps because it will contain so many Guardian-readers, what with about half of it going to be full of London’s local government.
But, just like me, this blogger and amateur photographer has a problem photo-ing the Shard just now. This is because it is getting big, but is not yet big enough to be visible from a distance, as it starts seriously to tower over surrounding London lumpage. So, you still have to get close up to it, which means you need the kind of wide angle lens that we Billion Monkeys do not possess.
But, trust me. They are building this.
That’s a picture of me taking a picture of a picture (with a shiny black background) of the Shard, as it will be.
Germany’s gay foreign minister was in China with his partner, but did anyone notice?
Well I did, and enough to type that all out by hand, what with headings like this one being uncopiable, and therefore inevitably unpastable, by me anyway.
Yes, incoming from Tony, with whom I stayed last week in Alicante:
I saw TWO cats today!
Maybe the truth is I only saw close-up the centres of a couple of towns. Had I meandered about in suburbs, maybe cats would have been a common sight.
Tony, whereabouts were these cats?
If not the decade:
Wait two months for a Brian Micklethwait Dot Com recorded conversation, and then two come along on the same day, although actually these two were recorded over a month apart.
This one with Antoine, recorded on Tuesday of this week, describes the electoral earthquake that was the victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in the “special election” they had there, and how the Republicans have now caught up with the Democrats when it comes to applying blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., to the winning of such elections.
How does this affect US politics in the months and years to come? And what can we in Britain, in particular we libertarians, learn from all this?
We managed to keep it down to below half an hour this time. Enjoy.
Early last month (on Dec 8), I had a chat down the phone with Bishop Hill, aka Andrew Montford, about his new and now available-to-buy book, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science, and related topics. Listening to this conversation is a seriously insufficient substitute for reading the book itself. But as a way of learning what sort of a guy Andrew Montford is and what sort of mind he has, what got him thinking the way he does and blogging the way he does, it’s a good and useful listen, or so I hope.
It would have been an even better listen had it not been disfigured, right at the beginning, by mysterious clicking noises, caused by I don’t know what. Luckily, after about a minute and a half, this ceases. I have decided, rightly or wrongly, to just ask my listeners to hear past this annoyance. The rest of the conversation, which lasts just under 35 minutes, is okay.
So, with deep apologies for that early glitch, enjoy.
I will of course be writing more about the book itself, here and there. During the above conversation, pessimism about the book’s prospects was expressed, what with how long it was taking to emerge. “Missing the boat”, etc. But as of now, all the signs and early reactions I have encountered look good, and it is going to sell very well.
Question. Is this sexy?
I think: yes. Provided the legs are nice, which these ones are. Even if green.
Photoed by me in Lower Marsh, London, Jan 15.
Paxman has just referred to this on Newsnight. “If a million monkeys were given typewriters, blah blah, Shakespeare, blah blah, but now a bunch of scientists at Edinburgh University actually have given a camera to some chimpanzees!” How could I ignore that?
Google google. Here‘s the story:
The team constructed a sturdy orange coloured box which had a monitor on the side acting as a viewfinder so the chimps could see what they were shooting.
John added: “I’m pretty sure they understood what they were filming.”
“We were dealing with an average group of chimps but they worked with us very well and gave it their best.”
Sadly, they were given just the one movie camera, not each given Billion Monkey cameras, which is what I would like to see.
Apparently this sales pitch is actually working.
I don’t think, though, that this means that already, “America is moving to the right”. It is merely that American is being dragged leftwards, and doesn’t like it. But, it is still being dragged leftwards quite a bit, despite itself. If America later decides to go much more seriously free market, partly as a result of such messages as the one pictured above, and actually drags itself that way, that will be a distinct thing.
As so often, thanks to the invaluable Instapundit.
I was really sorry to have missed this. Just as I was about to go there, something else came up and I made a snap (hah!) decision that I now rather regret. Yes, I definitely did want to do what I actually did, but I also wanted to be part of this:
On Saturday, Trafalgar Square saw.the I’m a photographer, not a terrorist mass turnout defend our rights to street photography and protest at the abuse of terror laws. This peaceful, jolly and snap happy event, attended by both pro and amateur photographers, and a few stray tourists, was in response to a series of high profile detentions of photographers under s44 of the terrorism act.
In fact, I feel like Tackleberry (sp?) in Police Academy, when he was banging his head against a brick wall. Why? There was (in that case) gunplay, and he missed it:
Not that I’m completely sure what I actually think about this. Yes, pretend policemen are misusing the Terrorism Act, but there is still something a bit mob-rule-like about all this. That lettering that IAPNAT uses suggests to me that although nobody actually is a terrorist, quite a few of the people involved do quite like terrorism, in a general fuck capitalism fuck civilisation sort of way. Also, as a libertarian, I favour privately owned public space, or am supposed to, and that means private owners being allowed to ban photography.
Besides which, how will they ban photography when you can fit a perfectly satisfactory Billion Monkey camera in your coat button? That means that there is a real difference of interest here between Billion Monkeys and Real Photographers. This demo was, or so it looks to me, dominated by Real Photographers, asserting their god-given right to snap away with their giant elephant penis cameras, wherever they want to. Which on balance I am in favour of also. But I’m not completely happy about this “right”.
My other doubt about all this is that, increasingly, I am coming to think of photography not as a public right that totally respectable people are totally entitled to indulge in, but as something that is by its nature a bit sneaky, even a bit pervy. That some policemen with nothing else to do will accordingly harass you from time to time is par for the course, even evidence that you are doing something right, by being a bit weird and photoing something that most people, the totally respectable and normal ones, would not photo. Which means that your photos will actually tell people things they otherwise wouldn’t be told, show them things they might otherwise miss. I remember reading about how one of those double-barrelled French photographers of the early twentieth century, of the sort that my friend Bruce the Real Photographer knows all about, got his start as a photographer snapping passing ladies from beneath the pavement. Very good shots they were too, and no doubt they are now of great interest to apparel and shoe historians, quite aside from being lots of fun. Meanwhile, respectable people, then as now, were photoing themselves in front of cathedrals, or worse, just the damn cathedrals, which are about the only things that haven’t changed between then and now, unlike just about everything else.
All of which means that my inclination is actually (somewhat) not to line up alongside a thousand other Billion Monkeys and Real Photographers to Defend My Rights, but just to sneak around snapping, and merely hope I don’t get arrested. Or beaten up. Besides which, I hate attending any demo, because attending a demo inevitably involves my actual opinions being seized by other politicos, and explained by them rather than by me.
But, I would have loved to have been there, even so. Not so much to be part of it, but - definitely - to photo it.
Yesterday I did a bit on Samizdata about a BBC TV discussion show about Barack Obama. They get that Obama is now unpopular, but have no convincing idea about why. Racism and irrational fury, is all they can think of. Biased BBC linked to it. Which was nice.
Further to that, this, from the latest Radio Times, advertising a Radio 4 programme going out this evening called entitled “Turkeys Voting For Christmas”:
Why is it that people so often vote against their own interests? David Runciman looks at the unpopularity of President Obama’s healthcare reforms and asks why so many Americans seem angry about efforts to make them better off.
Because you see, Runciman just knows better than all those Americans what their own interests are. And Obama’s “reforms” could not possibly, even possibly, be a bad idea.
I am also pondering a posting about how hard it will be for the BBC to dig itself out of its bias problem, in the event that it ever decides that it wants to.
Like I said, the only cats I photoed in Spain were ornaments. My favourite Spain cat snap was this one, taken in the flat I stayed in. The flat was recently acquired from a classic Little Old Lady, who couldn’t take it all with her. As of now, all the decor, furniture, ornaments even, are exactly as she left them.
The journey to Spain was not fun. The horror starts the night before. I am already too late getting to sleep when I realise that the numbers on the RyanAir bumf concerning maximum luggage size are in centimetres, not inches, so I get out of bed and check that I have a smaller bag, and repack most of what have already packed, making several painful exclusionary choices. Then I lie awake in bed for another two hours or more, worrying some more about not getting enough sleep.
But, I get up at the proper (ridiculously early) time, having had about ten minutes (I do not lie) of actual sleep, and try to speed up the trip to Victoria by taking a bus along Vauxhall Bridge Road. But I miss two buses just before getting to the stop, and by the time another arrives it would have been quicker to walk. When I get to Victoria the signs about where the buses to Stansted leave from are insufficient and those that exist are lies. Eventually a cool looking French guy (of the sort whose looks and life and woman-skills I envy and whose political and philosophical opinions I despise) does some hasty local research and reveals that the bus will actually depart from somewhere quite near but quite different, which it eventually does, a full hour after I had reached Victoria. At least, this being Sunday morning (which was why I was in a bus in the first place - the trains were out for the weekend), the bus has an easy ride through inner London and I reach Stansted in time. But no sooner than that. No cool Frenchman and I could have missed the plane.
At Stansted, knowing that fluids on planes are restricted, I consume a bottle of fruit juice (more like industrial waste from an artificial sugar factory really) and my tin of Tesco Red Bull Clone. But since I am only just on time, I neglect having a piss. On the plane, I desperately need a piss, what with the perpetual jogging that planes, I suddenly realise, subject you to. They aren’t a bit like trains. But, being an old git and what with all the jogging, I am, although bursting, unable actually to burst in the horrid little Ryanairplane toilet, despite literally crying and yelling with the frustration of it all. Something to do with the same muscles that keep you standing also stopping you from pissing. Defeated and humiliated, I return to my seat and continue bursting until we arrive at Alicante nearly two hours later, and am finally able to burst on the solid ground of Spain in a proper toilet with vertical walls, that stays still.
On the journey back home I arrive at Alicante airport an hour and a half too early, having imposed dehydration upon myself all that morning, and have several precautionary pisses anyway. All is then well on the piss front. Unfortunately I am on the wrong side of the airplane for photographic purposes, but that’s another moan.
By the way, I needn’t have worried about the luggage measurements. The original bag would have been fine. Many passengers took far bigger bags even than that onto the plane, unmolested.
A commenter complains about the brightness of the tiny gold mosque. But I only saw the tiny gold mosque because of that complaint, and I think it’s a feature, not a bug.
And in an internet cafe. But it won´t read an SD card so no pictures until I get home. Although, come to think of it, maybe I will find another internet cafe which will allow me to show pictures.
First impression, it´s warmer, without being uncomfortably warm. Warmer yesterday afternoon, when I arrived, than today. Whether the sun is out or not makes a big difference. An ideal place to escape the cold and damp of England at a time of year such as this, especially so as so few tourists yet seem to have grasped this notion.
Second impression, Spain contains lots of mini-mountains, often very near to where everyone lives, in fact in the case of one mini-mountain, actually right in the middle of where people live. Although actually that might have been the first impression in this impressions list, because I could clearly see this from the airplane as it came in to land. Alicante, for instance, has a big lump in the middle, with an ancient castle on top, like in Edinburgh. Today, I and my friend Tony went to the top of it. But, we didn´t walk up, we took the lift. This involved a long walk down a very strange, because very straight, tunnel. Then up in the lift. At the top we found not so much a castle, as an ad hoc collection of fortifications, clearly created over a longish time, as and when they needed and could afford them. What I especially liked was that at the top of this obviously very historical place, they still had room for some world-class, state of the art, guaranteed twenty-first century roof clutter, of which I of course have numerous photos, along with rather cloudy views of Alicante and its various nearby mini-mountains.
Third impression, the place seems pretty civilised. The children are polite to old gits like me. There are no drunken yobs to be seen anywhere. Maybe it is like this in provincial towns in Britain, but from what I read in the admittedly doom-laden British press, it is just as bad there. There are, for instance, and to mention a particular hate of mine, no bits of chewing gum on the pavement. My guess is that until recently, Spain has been too poor to afford a welfare state and the consequent inevitable degradation of the lives and morals of the lower classes.
Fourth impression: no cats. Not one. Dogs, yes, quite a few. Birds in cages, yes, lots. Cats, none. Maybe the birds in the cages contributes to there being no cats, because cats would terrify all these birds, or worse. Only cat photos so far of two china cats in my friends´ flat, and some also non-real cats in a hardware store.
Fifth impression: it´s great, when you on holiday to have a great book on the go, and on an impulse I grabbed and included at the last possible moment, in my tiny bag of stuff, a copy of Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin, to add to the book on Roman history I had already packed. Knots and Crosses is the very first Rebus book. And it´s great, I think. I have dipped into later Rebuses (Rebi?), but have not found that nearly so satisfying. Now I plan to read the second one as soon as I get home, and if that works, the third, and so on.
That´s all for now, and very possibly until I am back in London. Sorry no links, and sorry for the inevitable typos, induced by strange kit and a strange keyboard. The man in the cubicle next to me is whistling and humming tunelessly. I´m out of here.
Today I am off to Spain for a few days, the idea being that it will be sunny Spain. Friends have a flat in Alicante, and I will stay with one of them there for a few days. Me being only a very occasional traveller and one of advancing years, I have already spent more time fussing about the details of this trivial expedition than I will spend actually doing it. Oh well.
This is the kind of thing I expect to see less of:
That was the view from my living room window on the one day of genuine snow that my part of London, the bit in the middle, has experienced this winter so far. Even that snow was soon turning to slush, and was rained into oblivion the following day. Maybe political people tend to live nearer to the middle of city centres than do random children, which is what they presumably used to be. Therefore they think the earth is getting warmer, when all that has really happened is they’ve moved somewhere warmer.
It is now warmer than that photo, but it is being said that, about when I return to London, it’s going to get cold again. Again: oh well.
“A row over cats has erupted between Cyprus and Turkey,” its website [link added by me - BM] reported, “adding a surprising new flavour to a long-standing stalemate between the communities of the divided island and its difficult relationship with Turkey.”
The cats in question are the “Aphrodite giants”, a beautiful, extremely large and gentle-natured creature, and the equally attractive St Helena breed. Unsurprisingly, the Cypriot Feline Society (CFS) is attempting to register the breeds as national cats, but allegations have emerged of a plot to claim the cats for the Turkish north of the country, depriving Greek Cypriots of breeds that have begun to win prizes abroad.
The CFS fears that Turkish Cypriots are keen on cross-breeding the Aphrodite and the St Helena with a Turkish cat and registering the new breeds as Turkish.
The Aphrodite affair has quickly become another bone of contention. “The cat belongs to its people,” judged the popular daily Politis. “The Cyprus Feline Society,” it reported, “has taken the initiative to stop the efforts of foreigners – and particularly Turkey – to cross their own cats with the Cypriot kind, [efforts] that are aimed at perverting yet another of the island’s historical realities.”
Thirty-five years after the Turkish invasion, Cyprus remains a divided and suspicious island. But this is the first time it has come down to cats.
My thanks to the Fat Man On A Keyboard, an occasional read of mine, for putting me onto this story.
Given that the original euractiv.com piece was published as long ago as November 23rd, I think it is rather tacky that the Guardian only named the website, without linking to this particular piece. Still wedded to paper, I suppose. You can’t link from paper, so you mustn’t link from the online version of the piece in the paper. I see what they are thinking, but I think the thinking is primitive. Surely newspapers have had time by now to be thinking of their stuff on paper as a mere meatspace presentation, while the online stuff is the real thing. And of course according to people like this guy the paper thing is doomed anyway.
I probably wouldn’t be mentioning them, but for the fact that their name is so very appropriate to describe the photos I took of them.
It happened as I wandered south through Leicester Square on my way to my favourite eatery in London, the West End Kitchen in Panton Street, past the WhateverItIs Cinema, where there was a small celebrity-type scrimmage of onlookers. I joined them.
At first I was attracted by this spectacle:
So, who or what had these Real Photographers assembled to photo? The answer was not long in arriving. Four blokes:
Going by the signs all over the front door of the cinema, I assumed that these men were some or all of the pop group Blur. And so, when I got home and looked at what I had (my camera’s eyesight being a lot better than mine), it proved. At first I thought that Blur lead vocalist Damon Albarn had been replaced for the evening - surely not permanently? - by TV chef and Sainsbury food flogger Jamie Oliver. That’s certainly who the one in the hat looks like in the picture on the right there. But further analysis of my other even blurrier Blur pictures convinced me that it really was Albarn, just with more ginger hair and more hatness than usual.
I really should have followed the example of the Real Photographers, and used a bit of flash, at least some of the time. For a better celebrity snap by me, see this, from way back. I do love daylight.
The only proper mention on the www that I have so far found concerning the above eventlet is this pre-announcement:
Tomorrow, january 14th, will take place the red carpet premiere at London’s Leicester Square. All four members of the band are expected to attend this event.
The red carpet premier, that is to say, of a movie about Blur. That’s from a fan-blog in honour of the one in the duffel coat, Graham Coxon, who is a guitarist, and who left Blur in 2002.
Here are lots more pictures of it, including many at night, when it looks even better. It’s the Si-o-Seh Bridge in Esfahan, Iran, one of eleven bridges in Esfahan, according to Wiki. Si-o-Seh means 33, because there are 33 arches. Built almost exactly four hundred years ago.
Yes. I saw this from across the road, this afternoon:
... and took a closer look at the signs in the windows, just to be sure that they said what I thought they said:
This place has been in visible decline for quite a while now. The ancient DVDs that you can hire in a clutch of five for a week are hopeless, being so damaged that half of them didn’t play properly. The new ones that I want to see are too rare, and judging by the thinness of the crowds when I’m there, that goes for everyone, even if we each like a few different ones.
The last few times I’ve been in there, I’ve just looked around at the new stuff, and then walked away with nothing.
Another symptom of a doomed business, I surmise, is when its core product takes up less and less space, and things like games and junk food spread. I very much doubt if Blockbuster understands the games business or the junk food business as well as it understands, well, videos. I doubt if they even properly understand DVDs. Michael J has been telling me for ages that Blockbuster is doomed, what with internet downloading etc. And me copying movies off of the telly onto blank DVDs that cost about 25p each can’t be much help either.
But worse than all that, far worse, is that a big scary looking Muslimesque guy with only one functioning eye works there, or did until now. Seriously. He looks like Abu Hamza in civvies and without the beard, but scarier. A few months ago, I witnessed him having a huge fight with a customer. The customer said he had returned a video on time. One Eye said no, it was late and the customer would have to pay extra, but the customer said no, he was sure he had returned it on time, and had some particular reason I’ve forgotten that explained why he was so sure. Eventually One Eye totally lost his temper. It was the customer who behaved like a shop assistant, while One Eye did a Mad Customer impersonation, like in some kind of upside down training session or something. One Eye’s colleagues looked very uncomfortable and would have restrained him, except that they didn’t dare. I didn’t see One Eye there again until just before Christmas, when to my amazement he had rematerialised.
No shop with a person like him serving in it is going to last very long.
And if Blockbuster hires people like that, and keeps on hiring them despite their psycho outbursts (and I bet the one I saw wasn’t the only one), then I wouldn’t expect Blockbuster itself to be lasting very much longer.
David Thompson links to this short slow motion video of a cat landing. The secret revealed by the slo-mo camera is how the cat twiddles its tale in the opposite direction to the way it needs to turn to get itself upright.
Proof that with enough spin you can land on your feet.
On Monday I stuck up a photo of two stadiums right next to each other, in New Jersey, the old one and the one that will replace the old one. I also said that I wasn’t clear about whether these were the places were the New York Jets played, or the New York Giants. Both, said commenters. They share a stadium, and will share the new stadium. Sharing, said commenters, seems to go with government money being spent on these things.
Alan Little then said that in Munich there is a big new (publicly funded) stadium, shared by Munich United and Munich City. No, it’s actually Bayern Munich and 1860 Munich. Soccer teams.
Alan went on to say this:
The outside of the stadium is translucent, and is lit blue when 1860 are playing and red when Bayern are playing. Looks quite impressive from the Autobahn. (Not sure what colour it is for Derbies.)
Well, allow me:
I found that here. Although there is no mention of Bayerns or 1860s, I feel sure that these must be the kind of “special occasions” that are referred to just below the picture.
This evening I am giving the first 6/20 talk of the year at Christian Michel’s home, about ... cricket! I have spent great chunks of the last few days, and all of today so far, fretting about this talk, in particular about how to impose a coherent structure on it all, but I think I’ve now cracked it. I will start my talk not fifty or sixty years ago but right now, with two fascinating test matches, one still in progress involving England, and another just concluded which did not involve England, that non-involvement being at least half of my point. Despite being neither an Australian or in Australia, nor a Pakistani or in Pakistan, I was, thanks to the internet, able to follow that game ball by ball, and could have followed all of it if I hadn’t wanted any sleep at night-time for the duration.
From the various emails I sent him about this talk, Christian cobbled together this spiel to send out to his potential congregation, which says what I have in mind to talk about:
Brian’s talk will be about cricket. But, hey, don’t stop reading if you are like me continentally utterly indifferent to that drawn-out ritual of white-robed males adopting in turn indecent postures. I have reassuring news. Brian won’t talk only about cricket. He has been a fan of the game since he was shorter than a wicket. His devotion is at a distance nowadays, through television and the internet, and through these tiny windows he will explore with us the changes in the world over the noughties. Yes, the rise of “Twenty20” cricket; the emergence of India, with more fans of the game than there are people in Europe; the power shift from the old white Commonwealth to the Asian subcontinent – but not only. Cricket will take us through the changing texture of everyday life caused by the IT revolution, the faces of nationalism, the decline of big media, and many other issues besides. ‘Just change “cricket” to whatever you are a fan of’, Brian tells me, ‘and see if what I say about my passion applies to your enthusiasm’
Wow. That sounds like a lot. Wish me luck.
In the small hours of this morning Channel 5 TV showed the NFL game between the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals, which the Jets won 37-0. So far as I could make out, skipping through the recording, the Bengals weren’t really trying. The Jets had to win, but the Bengals didn’t need the win. Apparently there will be a Play Off rematch next Sunday, which will be for real.
Of far greater interest to me than the game were the occasional aerial glimpses of the stadium in which the game was played, alongside the new stadium that the Jets will be using next season. The best I could find on the internet of this was this:
What I like about this photograph is that it is both magnificent, consisting as it does of two magnificently grand structures, and yet nevertheless temporary, which regulars here will know is a quality I particularly treasure in photographs. I mean, if the thing is going to be there indefinitely, why make such a fuss of recording what it looks like. But these two Things will only spend a few short years next to one another. No sooner has the second of them been constructed, than the first will be destroyed. Apparently, they are so close together that the old one won’t be exploded, as that would endanger the new one. It will have to be slowly broken to bits, with such antiquated tools as balls hanging from cranes.
I’m not at all clear whether these two stadiums are or were for the Giants and which the Jets. It was the Jets playing in the smaller one of them last night. But I rather think they were playing in the Giants Stadium. Or something. No matter.
On New Year’s Eve I did a Samizdata posting with lots of Evening Standard headlines. Since then I have been rootling through my photo-archives, looking for the more usual sort of pictures, with the notion of doing a photos-of-the-decade type posting. But so far all I have really noticed has been three more headlines, two more from the Evening Standard, and one from the Hackney Gazette:
All three are from the Summer of 2006. Why was the Boat Race captain arrested? Here‘s why. Writing the history of the last decade suddenly, this decade to be precise, got a lot easier.
Not that easy, though. I couldn’t find anything about the JCB maniac. The deadly plague headline is presumably about some deadly non-plague that killed hardly anybody.
Yes. Happy New Year to all my readers, whoever and wherever you are.
Last night, I again dined with Perry and Adriana. Had I not been doing that, perhaps I would have gone to see this:
More than 200,000 people lined the banks of the Thames to watch a firework display to welcome in the new year.
Clear skies gave the crowds a perfect view of the seven-and-a-half minute display above the London Eye.
The £313,000 display was cut by two minutes this year, helping organisers save a total of £70,000.
Imagine it. They saved all that money, just by letting off a few fireworks less than they might have! I wonder what they’ll spend it on.