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Friday February 22 2013

... all taken last Sunday, shown in the order I took them, the first in Vauxhall Bridge Road, the next two from Vauxhall Bridge itself, and the last one in Vauxhall, outside the Railway Station there.

Click and enjoy:

Top left: Creative use of the law of perfectly focussed intervening foreground objects, in this case causing the crane - one of my local favourites, especially when folded up for the night like this – to become, I think, pleasingly blurred.

Top right: Hardly visible, but what an effect!  Turner, eat your heart out.  Through the late afternoon London mist and muck, the setting sun behind me picks out two distant cranes (one in particular), away in the City.  I’m pretty sure that’s the Cheesegrater they’re working on.


Bottom left: A bit of a cheat, because not really a crane picture.  It’s really Battersea Power Station with sun setting behind it.  But cranes are involved.

Bottom right: The Replacement Crane itself, the one that has now replaced the one smashed into by a helicopter.  With an elephant.  And a castle.  Even though this is not the Elephant and Castle.

They kept the crane tower, and only replaced the complicated stuff at the top.  With another crane, which I also photoed.  I hope (although I promise nothing) to do a posting that tells that whole story, or at least what I know of it.

imageSo I finally got around to finishing my review of Think Tank by Madsen Pirie, which is the story, so far, of the Adam Smith Institute.

Ripple: me quoting Madsen Pirie, here.

Another ripple: the ASI quoting me, here.

The ASI seems happy, despite the delay.

LATER: Madsen Pirie quoting me, here.

Further to what Alastair James said about the panoramic views of central London from Blythe Hill Fields, incoming from Rob Fisher:

Seen this? It’s a gazillion megapixel panorama taken from BT tower. You can zoom in a lot.

I think maybe yes, but it’s good to be reminded of such things.

Plus, I learned something, which is that I must check out these brightly coloured buildings just past Centre Point:


I wonder how such technicolor baubles as these will look in fifteen years time?  Drab?  Naff?  There’s a definite 1970s feel to quite a lot of architecture these days, especially for some reason in the vicinity of the Dome.  Look out for (although I promise nothing) further postings here about that rather distressing trend.

There’s lots more stuff happening around Centre Point, in connection with Crossrail, so lots of stuff to photo there.  Or at least to try to photo.  Sometimes building sites can’t be seen no matter what you try.

Regarding the London panorama, this is but one of many such urban views, there being a website devoted to such things, panoramicly showing you cities all around the world.  How long has that been going?

There’s even an app.  Above the button for that, it says:

Now with motion-sensitive panorama viewer!

Does this mean that you can hover two hundred feet above yourself?  Taking virtual snaps as you look out from your virtual dirigible?  If so, cool.  And probably cool whatever it is.

Wednesday February 20 2013

Immediately after my first relaunched Last Friday, the one at which Sam Bowman spoke, I suffered a dose of success depression.  This is when you achieve a goal, and then feel not happy but empty, because deprived of the goal.  The event had gone well.  But I expected a little too much from it by way of immediate good consequences.  A wise friend who attended the evening later told me that good results would indeed happen, but more gradually than I had been assuming, and that is now starting to happen.

One of the better consequences of these events is that because I send out emails to anyone I half know or know of who I think might be interested in attending, I have re-established contact with a number of friends and semi-friends who I was in danger of losing touch with.

One such, Alastair James, a libertarian friend from way back, recently sent me an email which included this:

I know you mostly like shots of one thing (often with some clutter in the foreground), but if you are also interested in panoramas I wonder if you’ve ever been to Blythe Hill Fields in Lewisham.  I think it has some of the best views in London of Canary Wharf and the City but I rarely see it mentioned.

For years I have been nagging people to tell me about good spots to photo London from, but mostly without success.  And now that turns up, pretty much unsolicited, merely through me being in touch with Alastair and discussing his son’s sporting triumphs, they being the reason that he often finds Fridays rather hard to do.

As it happens, I had never heard of Blythe Hill Fields, but it immediately sounded very promising, the clues being in the name.  A hill, with nothing in the foreground getting in the way, just fields.  Ideal for wandering around on, to find the best shots, and so, yesterday it proved.

I immediately found out where Blythe Hill Fields is (from Google maps), identified the nearest station, Honor Oak Park, and soon discovered (from this train website) that there is a train direct to Honor Oak Park from Victoria, which is very near to me.  I also learned (from a weather website) on Monday evening, that the short-range weather forecast for Tuesday was, in a word: superb.  Not a cloud in the sky, they said, and so it proved.  So, a superb forecast in the other sense also.

Yet again, we see here the working through of one of my favourite Laws, which says that new methods of communication (in this case the internet) do not replace older methods of doing things (in this case going there).  Rather do the new methods complement and as likely as not reinforce the older methods.  Writing gives people more to talk about.  Printing makes writing massively more productive, and gives rise to masses more talk.  Television adapts books and sells books and provides yet more conversation fodder.  Email makes meetings, at which we can all talk to each other some more, far easier to organise and publicise.  And now the internet makes wandering around London (also the world) massively easier.

This posting is already getting rather unwieldy, so I’ll hold the photos I took at and around Blythe Hill Fields yesterday for another posting.  Instead let me finish up this posting by quoting and commenting on another bit of the Alastair James email, which further emphasises the point about how the internet makes travelling easier, and in his case more fun:

BTW I recently finally got a Smartphone and I find it much easier to follow blogs since I got it – I’ve always felt guilty sitting in front of a PC reading a blog that I’m doing something unproductive.  Anyway I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading yours and how much I enjoy it!

You might be surprised to learn what a difference declarations of that sort can make to the morale of a blogger like me, who doesn’t now get many comments, still less comments like that.  Without my Fridays, I never get to hear that, which is a perfect example of a somewhat delayed effect that my friend in paragraph one above talked about.

But note also the smartphone thing.  Presumably Alastair now uses his to read blogs in circumstances where more serious work would be difficult, such as while travelling.

I am myself currently engaged in buying a smartphone, helped by my friend Michael Jennings (who is giving the next Friday talk this Friday – do come if you want to).  Whereas for Alastair James a key app is reading blogs on the move, for me the killer app is definitely being able to learn exactly where I am at any point in my various wanderings, and how to get to where I want to go to next.  It would have come in quite handy yesterday, but because of some serendipity that occurred without it (more about that later), I am actually quite glad that yesterday I did not have Google maps with me.  That’s another story, for which stay tuned.

I suspect that Alastair and I are not the only ones now, finally, kitting ourselves out with smartphones.  I sense a general society-wide stampede in this direction, as the iPhone works its magic.  The iPhone defines what a smartphone is, and all those for whom money is no object get one.  That tells the Taiwanese copyists what to copy at half the price, and now they have pretty much got there.

I will also be buying a “bluetooth” (Michael J says that will work) keyboard, much like the black keyboard in this posting (scroll down a bit), to go with my smartphone, the idea being that I will be able to type stuff in as well as read things.  (That keyboard is also a straight copy, in black, of an Apple keyboard, incidentally.  Again with the Apple influence.) A smartphone screen too small for typing, you say?  My very first computer, an Osborne, had a screen that was hardly any bigger, and I loved that.  Osborne equals a very stupid version of a smartphone, plus a keyboard, plus half a ton of electro-crap that is no longer needed.  Discuss.  I feel one of those ain’t-capitalism-grand postings for Samizdata coming on.

The trouble with my current laptop is that, like the Osborne if with less extremity, it is still quite heavy.  This means that I don’t always have it with me, in fact I pretty much now never have it with me, because when I do take it with me on my travels I often never actually use it, and in the meantime greatly resent its weight.  The idea is that I will always have my smartphone with me (obviously), and always (fingers crossed) with the keyboard.  So whenever a blogging opportunity beckons, when I am out and about, I will be able to respond.

The smartphone I am getting also has a rather good camera included.  It’ll be interesting to compare that camera with my present one.

Thursday February 14 2013

At his talk chez moi on Friday Feb 22nd (see below) on How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised, Michael Jennings intends to show us some photos.  Indeed, he will be dropping by earlier in the week to make sure that the relevant technology can be guaranteed to work properly on the night.  This may also require some creativity with the seating.

Here, in the meantime, are a few photos that he has emailed to me, together with commentary.  Enjoy.



This is in Sukhomi, Abkhazia, a breakaway non-recognised state that is de jure part of Georgia (and is supported by Russia). Mango is a fashion label that grew out of a stall in the Ramblas market in Barcelona, and is now to globalised retail what the sub-prime market is to home ownership.



An interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a market for a particular international business, and that international business does not operate in that particular market for whatever reason: because the market is too small, too distant, too poor, too corrupt, or there are political problems. Clones of the business will often spring up. These can be particularly entertaining in places where there is no trademark law, trademark law is weak, or where it can be legally difficult to pursue claims from the owner of the trademark. This burger place in northern Cyprus in no way resembles Burger King. Obviously.

One of the most extreme cases in which this phenomenon occurred was in South Africa under apartheid. Many international companies boycotted the country, which in some ways was a modern country with a sizeable middle class, economy and legal system. (In various other ways, it wasn’t and isn’t.) South Africa in 1990 was therefore full of quite good clones of international businesses, that until then were constrained as to where they could operate, but faces competition only from one another at home. Post 1990, the international businesses that they were clones of entered South Africa in a big way, and the South Africans themselves were subsequently able to compete in the wider world. The South African clones weren’t good enough or rich enough to compete in the home markets of the major internationals, and have subsequently expanded into countries that are poorly served by the internationals for a variety of reason - this means Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East. Politically dubious markets of questionable legitimacy a lot the time. One often finds South Africans and Russians side by side.



One could write an entire book about fake Apple Stores. The ones in China (this one is in Tianjin) are the most awesome. The entire story of international brands in China is itself fascinating. Everyone is there, because of the perceived size and importance of the market. Yet the country is far more chaotic, far more unstable, far more corrupt, for more authoritarian, has weaker copyright and patent laws and a weaker rule of law in general than many of the markets these companies would generally consider operating in.



India is more problematic in some ways: bureaucratic beyond words, and culturally difficult in ways that make foreign business models work less well, or at least require a lot more adaptation. (Imagine you are McDonald’s, and you are told that you are not permitted to use either beef nor pork in the food you sell). There have historically been limits on foreign investment. Supermarkets are only now in the process of being legalised. Very large companies can find entry to the Indian market - car makers or mobile phone companies. Medium sized companies - which is where most of the interesting stuff happens - find it much harder.

It’s going to be an interesting evening.

Wednesday February 13 2013

As already mentioned here, my next Last Friday of the Month (i.e. Feb 22 – please arrive at my home between 7pm and 8pm) speaker is to be my good friend Michael Jennings.  The long version of his talk’s title is:

How the globalisation of commerce has made the world less rather than more homogenised, and what I have learned out this by travelling the world.

Which I will hereby shorten down to:

How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised.

As all his friends will unite in telling you, Michael has done a lot of travelling.

Emails will soon be going out confirming all this, and in particular drawing the emailee’s attention to the following, which is Michael writing at a little more length about the kinds of thing he intends to be talking about:

Around a decade ago, a friend of mine decried the fact that the American clothing chain “The Gap” was expanding around the world, and destroying the local character of the cities she was visiting. I then asked her in which cities, precisely, she had seen their stores. She paused for a moment, and said “New York, Toronto, London, and Paris”.

At the time she said this, The Gap had stores in precisely five countries in the world: The United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, France, and Japan. (They have since spread a little wider, but not much wider. And certainly, not much deeper. In many of the countries they operate in, they might have one or two stores in the capital city, but they are not a brand that ordinary people will interact with on a day to day basis.) This said far more about her than it did about The Gap: she travelled to the very small number of places that were its target market - places containing people similar to her - and assumed that this was “the world”.

An observation I made then was one that has been confirmed to me since: when you find someone who decries the corporate homogenisation of the world caused by globalisation, one immediately realises that they haven’t travelled very widely. With more thought, one also realises they haven’t travelled very deeply. The number of interesting restaurants in a city is strongly correlated with the number of McDonald’s outlets and the number of fast food chains present, and it is a positive correlation. The number of interesting coffee shops (and Bubble Tea cafes, and Polynesian Cava outlets) is strongly correlated to the number of Starbucks outlets, and once again it is a positive correlation.

The question really, is whether correlation is causation. Does the spread of McDonald’s and Starbucks cause local ecosystems of food, drink, and other retail outlets to become more complex and more sophisticated? If so, how do they spread, and why do they spread?

I have spent much of the last five years travelling the world, chasing the answers to these questions in various countries and quasi-countries. (Quasi-countries such as Northern Cyprus, Palestine, or Kosovo are particularly interesting, in that the forces that spread businesses and cultures are impeded and obstructed in certain ways, while simultaneously being not obstructed in other ways that they are obstructed in real countries, and one can learn a lot about what these forces are from this.) In doing so, I have learned much about the spread of international corporations, but also much about real estate booms and cheap money. The spread of international business confirms, in many ways, the starkness of international borders and the power of international institutions and how these things trump commerce. A quick glance at shopping malls and high streets in a foreign country can tell huge amounts of information about the governance and legal systems of a country - merely through the presence and absence of brands, and through what alternatives fill the gaps left by the absence of international brands.

On February 22 I shall attempt to draw and share some conclusions from what I have learned.

As to Michael’s question about correlation, causation, and so on, between on the one hand Starbucks et al, and on the other hand greater eating diversity, my untravelled guess would be that both are caused by globalisation, and in particular by lots of foreigners descending on the place, because of easier and cheaper travel, more globalised business activity, and so on.  Some of these foreigners want their familiar stuff, i.e. Starbucks.  And other foreigners welcome the change to get away from all that, and want sample local delicacies and diversions, perhaps guided by local work colleagues.  Opposite sides of the same global coin, you might say.

But what do I know?  Less than Michael Jennings, that’s for sure.  He has not merely travelled.  He has travelled, to use his own excellent phrase, deeply.

If you want to attend this event, email me, or leave a comment here, and I’ll get back to you to confirm that you will be very welcome, as you surely will be.

Tuesday February 12 2013

Back to regular, occasional blogging, following my mad Thursday Odyssey (see the previous dozen or more postings below).

imageVia Alec Muffet and Michael Jennings, photos of people photoing food.  The one of the right is this one.

The marginal cost of digital photography is zero, which means that all sorts of people will find all sorts of further uses for their digital cameras, once they have them for some old fashioned reason like taking holiday photographs to bore their neighbours or blog readers with, or because they have a mobile phone which has a camera anyway.

Like photoing food.  Or like photoing people who are photoing food.

These people photoing food are described as “hipsters”. But are they?  They just look like people to me.

Monday February 11 2013

One benefit of meeting up with fellow libertarians is that together we sort out the world.  But there is also the matter of sorting out the ongoing activities of the libertarian movement itself.

When I finally got to the Rose and Crown, I did some exploratory chit-chatting with Simon Gibbs, about such things as future writings for Libertarian Home by me (I promise nothing but hope to do something) and about how he does his videos.  I would like to get good at doing videos, but don’t know where to start.  Except now I do.  Simon has agreed to teach me what he does.  He uses Adobe Premier Elements.  So, that’s what I have in mind to be using.  I also showed him my camera, the reviews of which when I first bought it said it would be good at video.  Will that do?  Yes, he said.

In exchange I was able to offer Simon some tips about how to do radio in general and the BBC’s Moral Maze in particular, which he was nearly on last week, and will surely be on Real Soon Now.

I daresay similar conversations were going on elsewhere in the room, where other libertarian doings were likewise being furthered.

I also got to talk with Richard Carey, who is to be my next Last Friday speaker but one.  Which means that I now have my next three Last Fridays sorted.  February 22: Michael Jennings.  (We now – at last - have Samizdata author archives!) March 29: Richard Carey.  April 26: Rob Fisher.  Michael will be telling us some of the things he has learned about the globe and its ways of organising itself from his various globe trottings.  Rob will be talking about open source software.  And now it is pretty much settled that Richard will talk about the relationship between libertarianism and Austrian Economics.  Excellent. Email me (see “contact” top left here) if you want to know more about any of these events.

Oddly enough, the one thing I didn’t think to do at this gathering was take any photos.  I was similarly forgetful on the Last Friday of January.

Neither omission was at all clever.  Photos create an aura of significance, a penumbra of meaningfulness, a force field of where-it’s-at-ness.  Not much.  A bit.  We can all do our bit, and bits like that are easily done by me, except that on these two nights, they weren’t.

And after all that I went home, watched some TV, and then went to bed.

The reason for all my meandering about in the London Bridge stroke Southwark stroke Waterloo area last Thursday was that I needed to be at London Bridge to photo the bottom of the Shard before it got too dark, in other words around 4pm, but then had to wait around until after 7pm, before going to the Rose and Crown for the Libertarian Home social.  Had I gone home, I’d only have had to turn around and come back again, more or less immediately.  Hence all the meandering.

The LH social was a lot of fun.  There was no one big conversation, just lots of little ones, and one of mine was about architecture and city planning.  The problem of how to switch from a statist world to a libertarian one without destroying lots of sacred buildings was touched on, which I think is a very good question.  Libertarians aren’t the Taleban, but the early effect might be the same if we aren’t careful.  And if we don’t have answers to such questions, we won’t get very far.

Also on an architectural theme, I was reminded of these photos, by the man, “Ian F4”, who took them.  He still had them on his mobile, and reminded me that he had put them in a comment here, on this posting.  They deserve greater prominence, and at the very least, another showing:


I love how, in the left hand photo, a bright light (or in this case a bright reflection of the sun) makes everything else go dark.

The one on the right is the shot of the Shard from near the bottom of the Monument,

It was Ian F4 who got me doing this mad series of Thursday Odyssey postings, by telling me about how he reads my blog.  This cheered me up no end, and I decided to have a bit of a go here, more than I have been doing lately.  So, all these recent postings are his fault.

While I was on that Waterloo Station upper deck, I espied a couple of adverts next to each other, put out by this organisation.

Here they are together:


And here they each are separately, for you to click on to get them well and truly readable:


Okay, I accept these challenges, and will respond.

The left hand one is a variant on the theme of “a billion people can’t be wrong”.  Yes they can.  Why has the Qur’an remained unchanged?  There are any number of reasons why that would happen, other than what they are trying to say, which is that it is all true.  Because it is an object of unthinking worship, rather than of serious study?  (Remember that the memorising of it is often done by people who have no idea what they are saying, merely reproducing sounds.) Because people have been too scared to challenge it?  Because Islam remains stuck in the seventh century, and unthinking bigotry is built into it?

Science, which the second advert seeks to argue was pre-echoed by the Qur’an, has changed over and over again.  And this is a sign of science’s intellectual seriousness and intellectual vitality.  Lack of change, century after century, signifies the opposite.

As for the claim of the Qur’an to be science before science, the real theory of the big bang is but the conceptual tip of an intellectual iceberg consisting of a ton of evidence and interpretation, and it is the latter that gives science its force. Science is not merely true.  It explains why it is true.  It argues about whether it is true.  And consequently it gets ever more true.  Islam is no truer now than it was thirteen centuries ago.

The good news here is that the claim that the Qur’an is as scientific as real science is a huge concession to the acknowledged intellectual superiority of science.  “We have been right all along, and science proves it!” But if they really thought that the Qur’an was the last word on everything, they wouldn’t be dragging science in to back the claim up.  Science would be ignored.

But they know that they cannot now ignore science.  Science is a challenge they know they have to respond to.  On account of it being so much truer and so much better at getting at more truth than the unchanging and unchangeable incantations that they are stuck with.

Actually, I’ve been getting ahead of myself.  At some point late on Thursday afternoon, before hanging out in Caffe Nero, I visited Waterloo Station, to use one of the cash machines there, as I recall.  And when I got there, I had my first go on the new upper deck that they’ve erected there.  From below, this is ugly and intrusive, and it ruins the view of the old red-brick indoor facade.  But when you are on it, it’s much more fun:


All those darkly dressed persons on a white floor reminded me of Breugel skaters.

Google “waterloo station balcony” for more imagery.

I do seem to like railway stations, don’t I?  First Westminster, then London Bridge, and now Waterloo, all of them interesting in their very different ways.

It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.

My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.

The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now.  Fair enough.  LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time.  Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds.  Remember all those concept albums?

I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe.  I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely.  Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now.  But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits.  Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes.  So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained.  CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.

At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players.  CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful.  Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them.  Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence.  On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself.  Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess.  Often what looks like a mess plays just fine.  (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were.  The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)

So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound.  I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.

Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:

image  image

I paid only eight quid for those.  And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while.  Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those.  Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon.  The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.

Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex.  Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing.  He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them.  He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them.  He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast.  He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later.  And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.

More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops.  The latter two being what I did next.

First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop.  He was born.  He deceived.  He tortured.  He slaughtered.  He conquered.  He died.  His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter.  What a pointless monster.  Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.

Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though.  How to do they pay their rent?  The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.

Sunday February 10 2013

Next last Thursday photo I want to show you:


Clock on the left to get the same photo bigger.  Click all you want on the right, but that price is as big as it’s going to get, which I am sure you will agree is just as well.

Perry de Havilland collects hippos, likes hippos, etc., and I am always on the lookout for cheap hippos for him.  If you do a Samizdata posting, and forget to specify any categories, the posting is categorised as being about “hippos”.  Arf, arf.

But hippos are hard to come by, as already noted in this earlier posting.  For less than something like £980 I mean.  This frustrates me, because Perry is a hard man to buy presents for.  It also surprises me.  Hippos are fun animals, surely.

The BBC thinks so.  It features hippos in one of its intro-videos, the one where a bunch of hippos swim around in a circle.  Even though they never swim, so QI says.  They just skip along the bottom, which looks like swimming only if the water is the right depth.

I should have photoed the shop name, but forgot to.  Sorry shop.

After checking out the bottom of the Shard, my next date last Thursday was at the Rose and Crown in Southwark, which meant that I had time to kill.  I decided to go back along the Jubilee Line to Southwark, and then walk on towards Lower Marsh, one of my favourite places.

On my way there, I saw this sign, which flags up one of the many reasons I was in such a good mood that day:


This time of year is one of my favourites partly because the days are getting longer again, which lifts the spirits of any photographer of my sort, who relies so much on daylight.  But lengthening is not nearly as good as actually lengthy, and February and March are still pretty grim.  Except that they are not grim at all, because of the Six Nations.  This is the northern hemisphere rugby tournament that takes place around now, annually, between England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, and also, for quite a few years now: Italy.

The commentators were all drooling after Weekend One, which was a try fest.  All three games this weekend were consequently very enticing.  Could Italy go 2 for 2?  Could England do likewise?  Who would be 0 for 2, France or Wales?  But those games happened this weekend, not last Thursday, so more about them Real Soon Now, maybe (for I promise nothing), but not now.

One thing I will say is that the Six Nations has a lot to do with the fact that it is now nearly Monday, and I am still telling you about last Thursday.

My Thursday Odyssey continued, and I finally arrived at my first official destination of the day.  I visited various other places, but only in passing.

The idea was not to find out how the Shard now looks from half a mile away, because all who care now know that.  My self-imposed Shard mission last Thursday was to start learning about how the bottom of it is being organised, close to.

My main discovery was that the bottom of the Shard is a bit like the bottom of a Christmas Tree.  The sloping glass that we all see from afar doesn’t go right to the ground.  Okay, it’s not one single trunk at the bottom, in the middle, of course not.  And actually there are big columns quite near where the sloping glass would have been, had it gone right down to the ground.  But it is a bit more like a Christmas Tree than I was expecting.

Here are some of the pictures I took:


What I had not realised was how near to London Bridge Station it would end up being.  And in fact, there are parts of that station’s concourse area which are directly underneath the Shard.  The last two photos show this.  The second last one has me looking up through the roof of the station concourse, and seeing the building itself looming upwards.  The final shot includes several tree trunks, so to speak.

In general, I like the way the bottom of the building is starting to look, very much.  So much of the harm done to cities in earlier times was blamed on towers, but was actually caused by the bad way towers were often handled at ground level.

It’s not all finished yet.  There is a big bus station next to the train station, but the buses are not yet going there, as one of the above snaps in particular shows.  There are still fences around the place, with propaganda about how wonderful it would be to live or work or stay in the Shard.  The state of the world economy has meant that they are still hard selling the building, and presumably could face considerable losses.  As of now, business is (as the old Hollywood joke goes) fantastic, amazing, incredible, amazing … but it’s picking up.

I didn’t think to enquire about what the system is for sampling The View From The Shard, which is the kind of thing I like to investigate in real life rather than only on line, given that I can.  And I might have ventured into the station itself, the bit where the trains go I mean, to see how the Shard fits in with the nearest platform to it.  But it was cold, and anyway, the joy of actually living in the object of my photographic passion (London) is that I can keep going back, to investigate the things I only wished I had investigated the first time around.

Yesterday, I lived my life, but I am determined, having started, to finish telling you about last Thursday.

So, okay, I have now arrived at Westminster Tube Station.

Most tube stations consist of lots of underground tubes, not just for the trains but also for the people.  Westminster Tube Station is different.

In its original form, it was a regular tube station, made entirely out of tubes.  But then they built Portcullis House across the road from Big Ben and Parliament, the one with the giant chimneys on top, where MPs now have vast new quantities of office space to wreak their havoc.  Many think powerful MPs are a good thing, because they will “hold the executive to account” better, but what they mostly now do is nag the executive to bite off more and more unchewable activity, and complain if the executive ever doesn’t.

While they were building Portcullis House, they combined that with doing a total rebuild of the tube station right underneath it.

And this time around, instead of grubbing about in the ground like moles, they just dug a huge, huge hole, like they do when building any other new building.  Just deeper.

As a result, the process of getting from station entrance to train, or from train to train (what with the station now being an interchange between the District and Circle Line, and the newer Jubilee Line - which is the one I was taking), is as dramatic and theatrical as battling through a regular tube station is grim and demeaning and demoralising.  At Westminster Tube, you now go up and down inside a huge open space, like a department store with no stuff in it, and grey rather than all spangly and coloured.  I love it, even though it has a decidedly fascist feel to it, maybe even because it has a decidedly fascist feel to it.  At least its stylish fascism, rather than just lumpy and cloddish.  But mainly, I think I love it because it is so different from a regular tube station.

While there last Thursday, I only took one shot, namely this:


Had I known I was on a Blogged Odyssey, I would have taken many more shots, of all that dramatic open space with science fictiony structure in among it, supporting the building above and the escalators within, but on Thursday all I thought I was doing was taking the tube.  I would have taken shots like the ones here.  Someone really should set a movie gun fight in this place, don’t you think?  Perhaps they already have.

As for my picture above, it puzzled me for a while.  At first I thought the right-way-round Westminster tube sign was some kind of double reflection, but there is only one sheet of glass involved, so it can’t be that.  In the end I cracked it, metaphorically speaking.  The Westminster tube sign is where it seems to be, but how it looks is confused by the reflection of the wall behind me.  It looks like the sign is projected onto the wall.  In fact, the wall behind me is projected onto the sign.  To the left, you can see the regular wall that the tube sign is actually attached to.

That white circular thing behind me, actually a fire hose I think, looks like a full moon.

Once again, I fear most may not care.  But photographed reflections are a thing of mine.

Friday February 08 2013

My Thursday Journey has now reached Parliament Square, where I remembered that one of my subsidiary missions was to see (and of course photo) the state of the crane at the top of the Vauxhall Tower, the Tower whose previous crane got crashed into by a helicopter.

Here how things now look:


As usual, there is clutter in the foreground, as is my wont, this time Georgian or some such thing.

Last time I reported on this crane situation, here, a new crane had arrived at the site, but the old crane remained as it was after being crashed into.

Later, on the day I took these photos, I observed that the old crane cabin, and a small part at the top of the crane tower had been removed.  But so far as I can tell, almost all of the original crane tower is still up, and they are now in the process, as the above photo shows, of putting another crane at the top of the old crane tower.

If that’s right, they obviously have ways of knowing that most of the original crane tower is okay and ready to resume duty.  On the other hand, maybe they completely replaced the tower, and I just missed it.

But, I don’t think so, because the tower changes colour at the point where I think the old tower turns into the new bit of the tower.

If you see what I mean.

And if you care.

The thing about this tower is that you can see what is happening at the top of it from half a mile away, from all sorts of places in semi-nearby London, and if you have a zoom lens like the one I have.  You don’t have to cross the river to see what’s going on up there.

As you can see, there’s now a light on, at the top of the crane.  I’m guessing that’s now a permanent arrangement.

And that’s as far as I have managed to take the story of my Happy Thursday, and I still have about four more postings about it to do.

Blogging, eh?  Actually doing stuff takes no time at all.  It’s describing it that occupies all the time.

My destination yesterday was The Shard, and I’d have gone straight there, from Pimlico Tube, had I not wanted to buy some sticky tape for my winter insulation system.  But the sticky tape shop was the opposite way from Pimlico, near Victoria Street.  And once in Victoria Street, as already recounted, I reckoned there was time before it got dark for me to walk down past Westminster Abbey and photo some digital photographers, which I haven’t done for a while.

With results I am very pleased with.

Two anoraks:


Two ladies each holding two cameras:


And two bag ladies:


I love that cross-legged pose.  She’s photoing Big Ben, as you can see on the screen of her camera.

Excellent gloves throughout, I think.  Apart from the guy in blue, who makes up for that with an excellent bright red camera and a prominently displayed website.

Once again, I’ve shown people in ways that will make them harder to recognise, like with these earlier ones.  I am now looking for shots like this even as I take them.

The photos below of NHS headlines were taken in one of my favourite newspaper and magazine shops, the one in Victoria Street on the left as you go towards Victoria Station, having turned left out of Strutton Ground.  Moments after leaving that shop, I started off back in the other direction along Victoria Street, towards Parliament Square, and took these the two snaps below.

There is not much point any more in taking pictures of just The Wheel.  We all know what that looks like.  But I still like to snap away at it, when I am able to combine it with other things, such as particularly satisfying foreground clutter, or a statue:


I especially like the one on the left, partly because the scene will never be repeated.  I do like temporary clutter.  And I particularly like how it says “ALARMED”, bottom right.  I only saw that when I got home.

The statue on the right is the one featured in this posting here, from 2008, which I had of course totally forgotten about but have just been reminded about by google.

That’s right.  I went a-googling for “statue outside westminster abbey”, and clicked on entry number four, “images for statue outside westmister abbey”.  And guess what the Gold Medal Image was, the very first image, top left, number one on the list.  That’s right, only me.

Not long ago, Alex Singleton dropped by.  And one of the many intriguing things he told me was that Google really, really likes blogs like BrianMicklethwaitDotCom.  This is because blogs like BrianMicklethwaitDotCom have been going for quite a long time, are quite frequently updated with new stuff, and are real blogs rather than fakes.  Also, crucially, BrianMicklethwaitDotCom has now no truck with - and never ever has had any truck with - bullshit tricks for boosting traffic as peddled by bullshit tricksters on the www.  Google can tell this.  Google has its own box of clever tricks to spot anyone trying to do this, and guess who is cleverer, the bullshit tricksters or Google?  And Google has worked out that I never do any of that crap.  So, Google likes me, and when people look for a picture and I have such a picture, my picture gets to be at or very near the top of the list.

Alex also told me that some quite Big Cheese car maker and car seller had made the mistake of availing itself of the services of one of these traffic booster nitwits.  Jaguar, I think it was.  And Google proceeded to expunge Jaguar from its listings.  So, when you went looking for a luxury car, you got no Jaguars at all.  And if you went looking for jaguars, all you got was big black kitties.

At the time, I thought Alex himself might have been bullshitting, but it seems he may have been exactly right.

No, not Jaguar, so not exactly right, and I have only left that in for the kitty connection.  Sorry Jaguar.  If you want all that removed, just say the word and it will be done.  I have just dined with Antoine Clarke, and he told me it was: BMW.

And the first thing I photoed yesterday was newspaper headlines, about Britain’s Envy-of-the-World NHS.  Those first three were literally the first three snaps I took yesterday, and the last one was photoed later, at London Bridge Station, more about which later, I hope.

Read, and be amazed:


I honestly cannot remember a day when Britain’s NHS has ever, ever had a worse press than it had yesterday.  (The same stories had been all over the telly on Wednesday evening also.)

I hope to write at greater length at Samizdata about these dramas, connecting it to my Alpha Graphs stuff, but promise nothing

The basic idea being that a nationalised industry collapses not when it merely starts deteriorating, but only when it is deteriorating so fast that a switch to the free market, although horrible, would be no worse even in the short run.  And of course massively better in the long run.  But it’s the short run that matters because it is during that short run that you or your elderly loved one dies, through being left out in a corridor or some such horror.

Libertarians are prone to assume that things like the NHS are untouchable, merely because people continue to swear by them when they are getting only somewhat worse.  Brainwashed fools!  They will never see sense!  But they are seeing sense.  And then suddenly, to the amazement of libertarians, they do suddenly see sense.  Actually, just a bit more sense, along with the sense they had already been seeing.

See also: collapse of the USSR.

The NHS has a bit of a way to go before it folds, because people are still at the stage, as you can tell from these headlines, of thinking that sacking the Boss and installing a New Boss would turn things around.  But, any year now ...

When you want to write a big old piece about Something Important, it’s not a bad idea for a blogger to rip out a little piece about it in the meantime, in a single figure number of minutes.  That at least gets the meme out there and gives it a chance to propagate, even if a bigger piece at Samizdata would do that better.

Yesterday was an excellent day for me, photographically.  Usually, after an enjoyable and productive photo-walk, I show you people only a tiny sliver of what I took, and quite often not even that.  But today, Friday, I want to do a bit more than that, with a series of postings of various sorts of things I snapped.

Meanwhile, Friday being Friday, some sensational cat news, which I spotted in one of London’s free newspapers towards the end of the day:

Monopoly fans have voted to give the iron the boot and welcome in the cat as the new token for the much-loved board game.

I guess time was when the Iron was a huge deal in life, far more than mere pets.  Not any more.

I recommend googling “monopoly cat”.

Monday February 04 2013

Looking east from Lower Marsh, last Wednesday:


I just like it.

And I love my zoom lens.

Friday February 01 2013

That’s the headline, but really, all that the cats are doing is killing off a few endangered bird species.

I guess people get so used to saying that something is both destroying the planet and meanwhile killing a few endangered species, that if all that it’s really doing is killing a few endangered species, it must also be destroying the planet.

The gift shop is a rather recent phenomenon.  It results of from regular stuff getting so cheap that if we want it, we go and buy it.  So, when you are giving someone a gift, it can’t be a regular thing.  It has to be a Gift.

And it just so happens that one of my favourite London streets, Lower Marsh (where I buy second hand CDs at Gramex), is rapidly turning into Gift Shop Alley.

And of all the gifts I have seen in the shop windows of gift shops, this is my favourite:


Trashy I know, but I do love it.  Photoing through a window is a bit of a skill, which I do not really possess, but I did my best.

As I was photoing, a lady emerged from the shop, locking it on her way out, so she worked there.  And she told me the name of the shop, which is not clear from outside: London Fossils and Crystals.

The skull of skulls is neither a fossil nor a crystal, but who cares?