Brian Micklethwait's Blog

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

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Saturday April 30 2016

Indeed.  Photoed by me yesterday afternoon:

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Learn more about the service at one of the places featured on the van door, such as this one.

The early version of this posting had a title with the word “verbose” in it, but that was inaccurate.  This is more words that you’d see on a van twenty years ago, but it’s all good stuff.

Friday April 29 2016

This is a first:

I am at Brian Micklethwait’s place for his latest Friday. This argument against leaving the EU was made (I am literally live blogging, this is breaking news!): The good thing about Brussels is that it is impossible to be emotionally attached to it. This weakens the state.

Interesting discussion is now ensuing. And we have not even got to the speaker yet.

The liveblogger in question being Rob Fisher, to whom thanks.

The speaker and subject matter were described in this earlier posting here.

I do hope to write something soonish about what was actually said by Patrick Crozier, but meanwhile, the other interesting thing about this evening’s event, for me, was how well attended it was.  By this I mean that the room was, as it usually seems to be, comfortably but not uncomfortably full.

What was so unusual about this outcome was that when I sent that first email out last Sunday evening, flagging up the meeting, I got no responses.  Usually, one or two or three people reply by return of email that they intend to attend, and more acceptances come in as the week before the meeting (which is on the Friday) progresses.  But this time: nothing.  Not even one email.  Not a sausage.  In my reminder email, which went out yesterday, I pretty much begged people to come, and to tell me beforehand that they were coming.  And a healthy trickle of positive responses duly trickled in, and I relaxed.  And then, come the evening itself, as already revealed, pretty much the exact same number of people showed up as usually shows up.

How do people, collectively, know to do this?  There has to be some kind of mathematical law in operation here, which says that the right number of people always shows up, no matter what.

It cannot be coincidence that the only time when far, far too many people showed up for comfort was the very first of these meetings, when I restarted them at the beginning of (I think it was) 2013.  Never again.  This strongly suggests to me that The Crowd, subsequently so wise, started out ignorant, of how much comfortable space there was, but that The Crowd has subsequently learned.  And now, The Crowd knows how to turn up chez moi in the exact right numbers, every time.  No matter what I do to assemble it, and no matter what it says beforehand, or doesn’t say.

Thursday April 28 2016

Yes, it’s a bus, totally covered in an advert:

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Click on that horizontalised graphic if you don’t believe me.  Buses like this one, photoed by me in Charing Cross Road this evening. really liven up London.  Basic monochrome red is so twentieth century.

But when it comes to buildings, plain bright red is a step towards riotous colour.

Wednesday April 27 2016

I spent a lot of my blogging time today writing about a talk I attended last night, given by Tim Evans.  I did not finish what I wanted to say, but the attempt left me little time to do anything here.  So, a photo, taken by me on the way to Tim’s talk, as I emerged from Euston Station:

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That’s part of the roof of St Pancras Station.  I like how my snap makes you see this building, if not with fresh eyes, then at least from a rather fresh angle, instead of the usual one you get, from in front.

St Pancras Station was first opened in 1868, and the contrast between how they did the tops of big buildings in those times and how the tops of similar sized buildings are done nowadays could not be more extreme.  Now, buildings of that size tend to have flat tops, and to be covered with telecommunications equipment.

Like this:

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This being New Scotland Yard.  And a statue of a man scratching his back outside Westminster Abbey.  Well, no, but that’s what it always looks like to me.  The column of that statue can also be seen in yesterday’s numerical traffic lights snap.

London’s famed Metropolitan Police are moving out of New Scotland Yard, back to old Scotland Yard.  It will be interesting to see what happens to all that roof clutter.  Maybe nothing.

Tuesday April 26 2016

I took this picture in lots of different versions.  Same picture.  Lots of different numbers.  So which number to choose, to show here?  I chose 5, because behind where it says “05”, Big Ben reveals the time to have been 5 past 5:

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So that’s 5 ticked.  2 is already done. 8 more to go.  Or maybe 7. Because, I rather think that these devices never get to say “01”

Monday April 25 2016

Indeed:

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Photoed by me, just after photoing this.  That particular part of London is a maelstrom at present.  As are lots of parts of London at any given time.

A new crossrail station is being completed, and Centre Point is being given a makeover.  I doubt it will look any different, but you never know.

Any decade now, Centre Point’s exterior will burst into colour.  But Centre Point right now, temporarily wrapped in this and that, is as colourful as it is likely to be for a decade or two yet.  A generation of monochromist modernist architects still has to die, before colour can really start happening in London.  At present (see the previous photo) Renzo Piano is the only fashionable architect being colourful.

While I’m showing you pictures of that rather angly station entrance, here is another, taken moments before the one above:

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Lots of signage of various kinds there.

For another view, looking down Tottenham Court Road, of this strange station entrance, see photo 3.2 of these.

Sunday April 24 2016

I just sent out the email plugging a talk to be given at my home this coming Friday (the 29th) by Patrick Crozier, on “The Political Consequences of World War One” (as already flagged up here in this posting).

The email included this:

Many libertarians of my acquaintance talk about World War One as the great libertarian historical What-If? As in: Surely, surely, the world would have remained far more libertarian-inclined if only ... World War One not been blundered into by its deluded protagonists. Everything bad about the modern world, for many libertarians, has its origins in that fateful and fatal moment of mass mobilisation, for massed war, in August 1914. War is the Health of the State! And with war, modern statism just grew and grew.

But has this growth in statism happened because of war, and because of that war in particular? Or did war merely accompany the growth? Was this causation, or merely correlation?

Patrick Crozier writes regularly for Samizdata, specialising in World War One, and in events of WW1 that happened exactly one hundred years before the time of his postings.  Just recently, Patrick has been, as it were, extricating himself from the trenches and from purely military issues, to look also at wider political developments, on the home front and beyond.  So he seemed to me to be the ideal person to be asked, as I did ask him earlier in the month, this question:

Was the rise of statism in Britain and the West seriously accelerated by WW1, or would such stuff have happened anyway, with or without war?

Were there big moves being made towards statism before the outbreak of war, and not even in anticipation of war? Did neutrals also do lots of statist stuff at the same time as the war’s protagonists?

Sounds good to me.  But then, these talks always do, because if at talk doesn’t sound good to me, I keep on looking until I find another that does.

If you didn’t get the email but would like to attend, or would like to get this and future emails, leave a comment or send me an email.  To do the latter click where it says “Contact”, top left.

Saturday April 23 2016

Indeed.  Photoed by me next to Centre Point, this afternoon:

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Another London facade which is nice but not totally wondrous is being carefully preserved, so that modernity can in due course be erected behind it.  This time I photoed it from behind.

I have been assuming that this is a purely aesthetic thing.  Done like this to get planning permission.  But someone (I do not recall who) recently told me that if you preserve a facade you don’t have to get planning permission for whatever you put behind it.  But, if you allow the facade to disappear, then you do have to get planning permission, even if what you subsequently do is re-erect the original facade.

Can anyone confirm or deny this?

Note that dash of Renzo Pianistic colour there.

Friday April 22 2016

The Londonist is telling me that I should Visit This Incredible Model Of Central London, Newly Open:

For many years, a wonderful secret has resided in a basement beneath the Guildhall. This highly detailed 3D model of London, used by planners, developers and architects, has been off-limits to the public, except for rare open days. From 23 April it will be freely open every week for anyone who cares to take a look.

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And you should take a look - it’s fascinating on many levels. Stretching from Holborn to Wapping, the scale model gives a superb overview of the different styles of architecture that make up central London. It also looks ahead, including any building that has received planning permission. Many towers under construction are here shown complete. Below we snapped the ‘Can of Ham’, soon to rise next to fellow picnic-able skyscraper, the Gherkin.

My first reaction, to the photos - not to the model itself (which I have yet to see) - is how very unrealistic it looks, despite (I’m sure) everything being the exact right size and shape.  I’m not complaining, just saying.  Models are often like that.

Not that I need convincing to visit this thing.  Fridays and Saturdays, apparently.  I’ve got various things coming up, so it may be a while before I get do this, but do it I definitely will.  And when I do, expect more photos.

That the model includes everything that has received planning permission will sometimes mean temporarily including Things that are never actually built, merely permitted but then abandoned.  Like the Helter Skelter, for instance.  Which presumably had a starring role in this model, for a while.

Thursday April 21 2016

Circumstances had placed me at the Angel Tube.  My business was concluded and the weather was wondrous.  So, where to next?  There is a canal near there, but I didn’t fancy another canal walk, so instead I just walked along whatever road presented itself to me, in the general direction of the Big Things of the City (one of them (the Heron Tower) having been turned blazing gold by the early evening sun).  The road turned out to be Goswell Road.  A place of slightly down-at-heal struggle, where you felt that for some, the struggle wasn’t worth it, but for others, maybe.  That kind of in-between sort of a place.  Not as affluent as you’d expect for something that close to the City, but trundling along as best it could.  Big, shabby-modern university buildings.  Building sites.  Ethnic shops.

And then in amongst all this middlingness, a glimpse through what looked like a shop window, into a world of money-no-object designer gloss and nouveau riche ostentation.  What is all this stuff?

It all looked rather Zaha Hadid, especially this shiny but strange object, presumably for sitting on:

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And hey, look, there’s a picture of Zaha Hadid.  This is obviously a place that takes Zaha Hadid pretty seriously, and is very saddened by her recent death:

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Zaha Hadid, I should explain, is the world-renowned starchitect and designer, who recently died at the shockingly young age of 65.  When a starchitect dies at 65, that’s like a rock star dying at 22.  At 65, starchitects, rather like classical conductors, are just getting started.  The thing is, starchitects need power, and their target demographic is old decision-makers, so they tend to be old too.

What was this rather strange place?  I stepped back to see if there was any clue on the outside.

Here was a clue:

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Good grief.  This is an actual Zaha Hadid place of work.

I crossed the road, to photo the whole thing:

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To be more exact, this is not the one place where Hadid and all her underlings did everything.  This is the Zaha Hadid Design Gallery, which opened in 2013 (I now learn), which would perhaps have been open for me to walk into had I encountered it earlier in the day.  The place displays many of Hadid’s numerous designs for Small Things, like furniture, lamps, sculptures, jewellery, paintings, and suchlike.

Considering what a wacky designer Hadid was, that’s a surprisingly prosaic building, isn’t it?  I’m guessing that it was not built specifically with her in mind, but was adapted.

So, no wonder that this place now contains memorials to Zaha Hadid, like this:

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There is some reflection of the outside in this next snap, but it gives you an idea of what the place as a whole is like, and what kind of stuff is in it:

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Frankly, for me, all this indoor small stuff does not show Hadid at her very best.  For that, I think, you have to go outside.

Her only building in London so far is the Aquatics Centre, which I photoed, very hastily, when I visited the top of the Big Olympic Thing.  Had I know then that Zaha Hadid had been about to die, I would have taken more photos of this building, and more carefully:

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I would, for instance, have placed it in a gap in that safety netting, rather than just randomly.  Another time.

But notice that even in that casual photo, the beauty, I think, of the building still asserts itself.  It’s like a sports helmet, of the sort worn by cyclists, and by some cricketers.

Even more remarkable is this amazing ancient-modern juxtaposition:

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This is now, apparently, nearing completion.  It might be worth a trip to Antwerp, just to see it.

Zaha Hadid’s underlings are going to try to keep the Zaha Hadid enterprise going, at least the architectural bit.  Good luck people, but you’re surely going to need it.

The rumour I heard is that Hadid was “difficult” to work for.  Maybe this was just an example of that law that says that bossy men are masterful, but bossy women are bossy.  But maybe she really was difficult to work for.  If so, this difficulty looks like it was all of a piece with the sorts of designs she created.

The thing is, Hadid was not some logical, everything-has-a-reason systematic, machines-for-living in, presider over a system of architectural problem solving.  She was the kind of architect who unleashed drama, excitement, at vast extra expense, if what you’re comparing it all with is a big rectangular box.  You only have to look at her stuff to see that any logic involved is just an excuse for a cool looking design.  Why does it look that way?  Because I, Zaha Hadid, say so, and I’m the boss, that’s why.  I make beautiful shapes.  Other people like them and buy them.  Deal with it.

That’s going to be a hard act to replace.

Wednesday April 20 2016

As regulars here know, I am fascinated by unusual vehicles, and by almost all commercial vehicles.  Whereas cars tend to be reticent about making any sort of personal statement, commercial vehicles have to communicate.  They have to radiate an atmosphere.  They have to dress themselves like they’re going on the pull in a nightclub.  Well, they don’t have to.  But most commercial vehicles are an opportunity to do marketing, so why turn it down?  And these vehicles consequently radiate as many different atmospheres as there are commercial purposes being pursued in and with them.

Here are a couple of vans I spied today:

imageimage

Both are somewhat self-conscious, I think.  There is a lack of earnestness here, a certain ironic distance, a certain slightly bogus artifice, not to say Art, involved.

But, all part of what makes wandering about in London such an endlessly entertaining pastime.

Sausage Man website here.  I tried googling “Oliver London”, but all I got was a lot of stuff about a stage musical.  The small tricycle van looks oriental to me, and that its presence outside an oriental restaurant is not coincidental.

Tuesday April 19 2016

People talk about how “nothing says London” quite like … and then they say something that happens quite a lot in London or gets eaten quite a lot in London, or some such very London thing, assuming you already know that that’s what it is.

I contend that nothing says London quite like a big sign, saying “LONDON”.  With that, there’s no ambiguity.

Here is a LONDON sign – well, more like a painting – that I photoed in Goswell Road late this afternoon:

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That particular sign saying LONDON is a bit cleverer than your usual LONDON sign.  The more usual sort of sign saying LONDON would say LONDON even more clearly, by just saying LONDON.

A bit more seriously, I’m surprised you don’t see that particular game played with the letters of the word LONDON more often.

Goswell Road is not a familiar place for me, in fact I don’t believe I’ve ever walked along it before.  It’s all rather arty and designy, in an urban decay kind of way.  That big LONDON sign has a definite Pop Art feel to it.  Unlike the sign saying CAR PARK.  Arty signs and car parks both being what you do when an urban site becomes temporarily vacant.  The usual rules about what is proper don’t apply.

Monday April 18 2016

Indeed:

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For the uninitiated.  I did once sit through this piece, when it was on the radio, but my mind wandered.  I blame the performance.  I also fondly remember the Gramophone (I think) review of a recording of it: a blank column.

Sunday April 17 2016

The weekend before last, just before getting ill, I attended a christening, at St James’s Piccadilly.  Outside St James’s, I encountered two ducks, who seemed very much at home, and I’m assuming that this is their home.  There was a small pond, which I’m guessing was theirs:

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And on the right, the day’s other happy couple, showing off their newly christened daughter.  Her name is not “Liberty”, but Mum and Dad are libertarians.  Congratulations to Ayumi and to Richard, and to their daughter.  A very good way to make more libertarians is to give birth to them and then raise them as libertarians.  But a very happy day, whatever she decides to make of herself.

Saturday April 16 2016

And I was deliberately retracing steps I used to do make a lot of around eight or ten years ago, to see what had changed and what had not.  A lot had changed, in the form of a few big new buildings.  The rest had not changed.

Did I say that that sunset I recently posted photos of was last Saturday?  Yes.  Actually it was the Friday.  Get ill and you lose track of time.  That evening I also took a lot of other photos, on and from the south bank of the river, between Blackfriars road bridge and Tower Bridge, and here are some of the ones I particularly liked:

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That array of small photos (click on any you like to the look of to get it a decent size) really should not now be misbehaving, on any platform.  If it is, please get in touch, by comment or by email.

As to the pictures themselves:

1.1 A Deliberately Bald Bloke standing at the bottom of 240 Blackfriars.  (You can see the top of 240 Blackfriars in 3.1 here.) That Deliberately Bald look is, I think, fair game photo-blogging-wise.  The guy is choosing to look this way.  It’s a fashion statement, not an affliction.  Blog-mocking the involuntarily bald is not right, but blog-celebrating those who embrace their baldness is fine.  Especially if the guy obligingly turns his face away.

1.2 is one of my favourite weird London sites, namely the topless columns of the Blackfriars Bridge that isn’t, in between the two Blackfriars Bridges that are, the one on the right now sporting a new station on it.  The twist is that this was high tide, and waves were rhythmically breaking against a corner in the river wall and filling the air between my camera and the bridges with bits of water.

1.3 is a building on the other side of the river. Just beyond the Blackfriars Station bridge.  I do love what light and scaffolding and scaffolding covers sometimes do.

1.4 and 2.1 illustrate the universal photography rule to the effect that if you want to photo something very familiar, like St Paul’s Cathedral, you’d better include something else not so familiar, such as some propaganda for a current Tate Modern show that I will perhaps investigate soon, or maybe four big circles that you can see at the Tate Modern end of the Millennium Bridge.

2.2 is an ancient and modern snap, both elements of which I keep meaning to investigate.  Those two buildings, the office block and the church, are like two people I frequently meet, but don’t know the names of.  Luckily, with buildings, it’s not embarrassing to ask, far too late.

I know what that Big Thing behind the Millennium Bridge in 2.3 is, under wraps, being reconditioned, improved, made worse, whatever, we’ll have to see.  That’s Centre Point.  It even says most of that on it.  I have always been fond of Centre Point, one of London’s early Big New Things.

2.4 features something I have tried and failed to photo several times previously, a Deliveroo Man.  Deliveroo Men are usually in a great hurry and are gone before I can catch them, but this one was taking a breather.  Deliveroo Men carry their plasticated corrugated boxes on their backs like rucksacks, which I presume saves valuable seconds.

3.1: Another ancient/modern snap.  The very recognisable top of the Shard, and another piece of ancientness that I am familiar with but have yet to get around to identifying, see above.  I reallyl should have photoed a sign about it.  I bet there is one.

3.2: The golden top of the Monument, now dwarfed by the Gherkin and by the Walkie Talkie.

3.3: A golden hinde, which is to be found at the front of the Golden Hinde.  I’ve seen that beast before, but never really noticed it.

3.4: Another ancient/modern snap, this time with Southwark Cathedral dominating the foreground.  The combined effect yet again vindicates Renzo Piano’s belief that the Shard would blend into London rather than just crow all over it.  Those broken fragments at the top echo the four spikes on the nearby Cathedral.  It looks that way to me, anyway.

4.1: Another delivery snap, this time of the old school sort.  A White Van.  But with lots of propaganda all over it, notably the back door, in the new school style.

4.2: Yet another ancient modern contrast, this time the Monument, again, with a machine for window cleaning.  Note that small tripoddy object on the top of the Monument.  I suspect that this is to give advance warning if the Monument starts to wobble.

4.3: Two exercises in power projection, now both lapsed into tourist traps.  Behind, the Tower of London.  In front, HMS Belfast.

4.4: Finally!  Modern/modern!  The Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater, and probably my favourite snap of all these.  Not a view you often see in other photos, but there it was.  Should the bottom be cropped away, to simplify it even more.  I prefer to leave photos as taken.

5.1 shows that thing when reflected light is the exact same colour when reflected as originally.  Photography is light, so photography sees this.  But eyes always try to create a 3D model of what is going on, rather than just a 2D picture.  Eyes deliberately don’t see this.

5.2 and 5.4 take me back to my beautiful-women-taking-photos phase, which was big last decade.  These two were too good to ignore. They were just so happy!  But, mobile phones, which is very this decade.  Just like my cameras, the cameras in these just get better and better.

5.3 is another view of that amazing cluster of footbridges.

Friday April 15 2016

Today I began to feel properly recovered, and I spent most of my blogging time doing this posting, about this forthcoming Libertarian Home event, which is happening on May 14th.  Interesting speakers, including Anton Howes, whom I particularly enjoy listening to.

Before getting ill, I managed (and thank goodness I did) finally to get properly ahead of myself with regard to my own speakers, for my own monthly meetings.  After cutting it far too fine in Feb and March, but being rescued by two excellent speakers, I did some serious hustling, and am now able to announce that the following speakers-and-dates have now also been fixed, subject to all the usual qualifiers about how things might change but I hope they won’t, blah blah.

It proved a bit hard to remember everybody, and every date.  All the more reason to do a memo-to-self posting here, gathering it all together, for me to refer to, and to refer other people to:

April 29th – Patrick Crozier on the political consequences of World War One.  Did WW1 cause lots of bad statist crap, or might a lot of that bad stuff have happened anyway?

May 27th – Dominic Frisby on taxation.

June 24th – Anthony J. Evans on to what extent economic freedom leads to political freedom.

July 29th – Michael Jennings on the Middle East.

August 26th – Nico Metten on localism as a libertarian strategy.

Assuming that plan unfolds approximately as planned, that’s not a bad little handful of events.

Thursday April 14 2016

Pyjama bottoms have a way of disintegrating.  And just lately I have been having other problems (I will say no more than that) with pyjama bottoms.  The night before last I had to wear short pants in bed, like an American sitcom actor just after having had sex, and last night I cranked up the hot water bottle.  It’s amazing what a difference just swapping proper length pyjama bottoms for the same thing but with no legs.

So the question was: laundrette, or Primark.  Wash the two remaining pyjama bottoms, one of which had gone missing, or: buy some more pyjamas at Primark.  I couldn’t face laundretting, so Primark it was.  Earlier this evening, I staggered forth to Oxford Street.

In the tube on the way, I grumbled to myself about how I would be obliged to purchase yet more pyjama tops, to add to the already absurd number of such garments that I already possess.

Instead I encountered this:

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A pair of pyjama bottoms, as in two pyjama bottoms, and no pyjama tops.  I bought two large (L) and two extra large (XL).  The XL ones fit fine and I am wearing one of them now.  Extra large my arse!  Well, apparently so.

I feared that the merely large ones would be far too tight, but they’re okay.  I’m now wearing one of them.  A bit tight but okay, and the good news is that elastic expands when you wash it.

And all this for just twenty quid.  And no, I don’t feel bad about the terrible wages paid to the people who make such garments.  I remember winning this stupid argument way back in the seventies, when I was accused of keeping Hong Kongians poor by buying their cheap stuff.  What I was actually doing, as I knew at the time, was making them rich (which they now are), by bidding up the price of their labour.  And now I’m doing it again.

I tried to find these garments on the internet, but failed.  So I just did a photo.

Modern life is good in so many ways, but I really did not see this particular item of goodness coming.

I’ll add that the new Primark at the Centre Point end of Oxford Street, which I was sampling for the first time, was agreeably uncrowded, and generally less of a mad down-market scrimmage than the one near Marble Arch, at least whenever I’ve been there.

The above link gets you to a place that says it isn’t open yet, but it was open enough when I visited.  Maybe the fact that it was open but not yet Open explains why it was so quiet.  Maybe when these places officially Open, pandemonium rules from then on.

Wednesday April 13 2016

A Getting Old thing is that you take longer to get well, after not being well.  On Sunday, I dined.  I was not poisoned (this has been established), but I did catch a bug (ditto).  On Monday, I ate some more, as you do.  Early on Tuesday morning the bug, having been operating in a clandestine fashion from Sunday evening onwards, stirred itself into detectable action, and it became clear that everything I had eaten from Sunday evening onwards was … not needed.  It was either returned from whence it had come or else fast-tracked through, if you get my drift.  So, this morning, I had basically been starving for nearly two days.  Today, I consequently felt weak.  Had I been young, I would have been up and sparkling this morning.  Today I managed to eat something, or at any rate swallow something, and let us all hope that my body is able to make some use of it, because if it doesn’t, I will have been starving for the best part of a week.  Are all those noises in my stomach my stomach making use of what I have put into it, or my stomach rejecting what I have put into it?  I have to believe that it is food processing that I am hearing rather than food rejection.  But even if that’s right, it is taking more time to recover from this damn illness than it was to have it.

A particular result of all this starvation, aside from feeling rather starved, is that my mind/body is seems to have decided to prioritise in the warming department.  The upper body is still considered by my mind/body to be worth keeping warm, but my feet are apparently superfluous to requirements and are accordingly being allowed to freeze.  If I put on a fire, my upper body stews.  If I turn off the fire, my feet freeze.  I guess the mind/body figures I’ve not been using my feet much lately, so what’s the point in keeping them warm, given that fuel is so scarce just now?

I am starting to understand why Old People put their feet on top of hot water bottles, or in bowls of hot water.

People probably do tell you this sort of stuff when you are young, but being young, you don’t really take it in.

The good news is that although no fire has been on, my feet have now warmed up.  While I was writing this.  Do you suppose that my mind/body actually paid attention to what I was saying to you people?  There’s a thought.

LATER: No.  I cooked an omelette and that was what warmed my feet.  This also, it soon became clear, had also stewed my upper body.

Tuesday April 12 2016

Being sick as in feeling sick, and occasionally being sick as in being sick.  As in expelling stuff I had previous eaten from my mouth.

Quota photo time:

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There is so much light crashing across London from west to east that evening the eastern clouds were lit up pink, like they were a sunset or something.  So I know what you are thinking.  It must have been one hell of a sunset to do that.  And you are not wrong:

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If I wasn’t sick I probably wouldn’t indulge in such a lurid sunset, which I photoed last Saturday evening on Tower Bridge.  But I am sick.  I can do what I like.

Actually, it’s already getting better.  But wish me well anyway.

Monday April 11 2016

The rise and (I now fondly hope) fall of Donald Trump continues to fascinate.

This bloke says it very well, I think:

Trump is powerfully illustrating the fraud at the core of his case for the nomination. He claims that because he is a successful businessman he would be much more adept than conventional politicians at mastering the intricacies of problems and processes. He will, he brags, figure out how to deal with challenges in a way that maximizes American interests, assembling the best, most competent people to execute his plans of action. As a result, we are told, American will “win, win, win” with such numbing regularity that we will be bored to tears by all the success.

But look what is happening. The process of choosing a Republican nominee for president, while far from simple, is not as complicated as many of the challenges that cross an American president’s desk. There are, moreover, countless experienced hands who know how the process works and how to build an organization nimble enough to navigate the array of primaries (open and closed), caucuses, party meetings, varying delegate-allocation formulas, etc., exploiting or mitigating the advantages and disadvantages these present for different kinds of candidates. Yet, Trump has been out-organized, out-smarted, and out-worked by the competition – in particular, Ted Cruz, whom I support.

Trump is not being cheated. Everyone is playing by the same rules, which were available to every campaign well in advance. Trump simply is not as good at converting knowledge into success – notwithstanding the centrality of this talent to his candidacy. Perhaps this is because he is singularly good at generating free publicity (and consequently minimizing the publicity available to his rivals). Maybe he underestimated the importance of building a competent, experienced campaign organization. But he can hardly acknowledge this because it is a colossal error of judgment – and his purportedly peerless judgment is the selling point of his campaign.

My first reaction to Trump was guilty pleasure, and the belief that he would win.  Now it looks like he won’t win.  Now it looks as though he has done America the huge favour of (a) destroying everyone in the Republican race except the man I support, Cruz, and then (b) showing himself to be unfit to run for President, let alone win, which means that Cruz could now be President, if he can beat Hillary Clinton (or whoever).  Would Cruz now have such a good chance of becoming President without Trump having flailed about like a wrecking ball, wrecking everyone except Cruz?

It is said that Cruz is a Bible Thumper.  (Trump worships only himself.) But for me, frankly, Bible thumping just now is a feature rather than a bug.  I reckon the Western World could damn well do with a bit more Bible thumping than it has been doing of late.

Yes, I’m talking about Islam.  The rich Christians right now are turning poorer Christian’s cheeks a hell of a lot too much at the moment.

On that subject, I also recommend this posting at Mick Hartley’s, where MH has this to say:

What I’d like to see is more robust criticism of Islam itself. Given the role Islam now plays globally in ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda; its insistence that the Koran is the immutable word of Allah; its general refusal to accommodate to the modern liberal scientific world; its misogyny; its violence, this shouldn’t prove to be that difficult. What stands in the way - apart from lack of courage - is that this comes at a particular post-colonial moment in history when we in the West seem to have lost confidence in our own liberal secular tradition.

There is also, perhaps more importantly, a general confusion about a belief and the people who hold that belief, which is perfectly exemplified in the term “Islamophobia”.

It’s a key part of our secular culture that we distinguish between the person and their opinions and beliefs. I think we inherit this to some extent from our Christian tradition - freedom of conscience, “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and all that - but however it was arrived at, it’s a key enlightenment concept that underpins our sense of justice and our sense of democracy. So we should be quite comfortable criticising Islam while maintaining a proper respect for individual Muslims. ...

The word is that Cruz has dared to criticise Islam.  Is that true?  It would appear so.  Good.  The anti-anti-Islam tendency is not happy.  Good again.

Sunday April 10 2016

Here (via Instapundit):

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Indeed it could.  And something tells me that this story is going to get very well known, very quickly.  “How much are they paying you for this?” is going to be asked, a lot.

A longer term effect is also going to be that genuine protests are liable to look like they’re fake too.

People have been paid, in cash or kind, one way or another, to do this kind of thing for quite a while.  All that this guy has done is turn it into a pure, if that’s the word, business.

Saturday April 09 2016

Indeed:

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It’s been a long day.  It’s been a long day partly because I spent a lot of it out and about, taking photos, of which the above is just one.  But it was still a long day.

I hear a lot of complaints from my fellow Londoners, to the effect that the Shard is all very nice and tall and pointy and everything, but that it doesn’t look finished.  That weird top.  It ought to be a smooth, single point.  Instead, well, look at it.  It looks like someone shot the original top off of it with a giant catapult.

But although this strange and “unfinished” top may make the Shard look less conventionally pretty, it does make that top very recognisable. You only need to see the very top of that weird top peaking out above something else nearer, and you know at once what you are looking at.  And I more and more find myself believing, about architecture in London, recognisable trumps pretty.  (I more and more feel this way about the entirety of the Walkie-Talkie.)

Friday April 08 2016

I’ve already done one posting about the walk that GodDaughter One and I did along the New River (further reaches of) last Saturday, and as I result I learned (thank you Natalie) about Pollarding.  Here is another posting, about a duck which GD1 and I observed that day on the New River, and this time what I hope to learn is what make of duck this is.

Here is the duck:

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Here are a couple of shots of the duck with his Mrs.

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Here’s one of those shots where the principle of a good photo photoed badly is taken to its outer limits.  You can see what I was going for and how great it might have been, but you can also see that it didn’t work:

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Don’t bother clicking on that one.  No point in that being any bigger, is there?

To compensate for the above failure, here is a final head shot of Mr Duck:

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I don’t usually post pictures of wildlife on this blog, basically because I feel that I don’t have anything to contribute.  Other people – a lot of other people – do this several dozen times better than I ever will.  But this duck genuinely interested me.  Until I saw it, I had no idea that such a bird was to be seen in the vicinity of London, looking like it had just flown in from Africa or Brazil or some such luridly colourful place.

And whereas, when you have a question about the modern world, you can usually now just type that question into a computer and up comes the answer in just a few seconds, that doesn’t work when you have photoed a fancy-looking bird.  I’m sure that this will come, but unless I entirely missed it, the time when this works is not with us quite yet.  I cannot now just stuff this photo into my computer and say: What brand of bird is this?

Perhaps this can already be done.  In which case a commenter can tell me this, and tell me the result that he or she got when he or she carried out this procedure.  He or she can tell me both about photo-searching, and about the duck.  Win win.

Blog and learn.  That’s the plan, anyway.

After writing the above, I tried typing “fancy duck london” into the www and asked for pictures, and a picture appeared in among all the irrelevant nonsense that looked like what I saw.  So now, I know the answer:

Specimens frequently escape from collections, and in the 20th century a large feral population was established in Great Britain; ...

Mandarin duck.  Blog and learn.

Thursday April 07 2016

I am in the habit of denouncing the notion that science is a precondition for technology (and therefore needs to be paid for by the government).  The tendency is for technological gadgetry to lead science, and often to correct science, by defying it and proving with its success that the relevant science needs to be redone.

But there is another even more direct way in which technology leads science.  Here is yet another excerpt from Steven Johnson’s The Invention of Air (pp. 73-77).  Click on the illustration, which I found here and which is the illustration in the book at that point in the text, to get it properly visible:

The study of air itself had only begun to blossom as a science in the past century, with Robert Boyle’s work on the compression and expansion of air in the late 1600s, and Black’s more recent work on carbon dioxide. Before Boyle and Black, there was little reason to think there was anything to investigate: the world was filled with stuff – people, animals, planets, sprigs of mint – and then there was the nothingness between all the stuff. Why would you study nothingness when there was such a vast supply of stuff to explain? There wasn’t a problem in the nothingness that needed explaining.  A cycle of negative reinforcement arose: the lack of a clear problem kept the questions at bay, and the lack of questions left the problems as invisible as the air itself. As Priestley once wrote of Newton, “[he] had very little knowledge of air, so he had few doubts concerning it.”

So the question is: Where did the doubts come from? Why did the problem of air become visible at that specific point in time?  Why were Priestley, Boyle, and Black able to see the question clearly enough to begin trying to answer it?  There were 800 million human beings on the planet in 1770, every single one of them utterly dependent on air.  Why Priestley, Boyle, and Black over everyone else?

One way to answer that question is through the lens of technological history. They were able to explore the problem because they had new tools.  The air pumps designed by Otto von Guericke and Boyle (the latter in collaboration with his assistant, Robert Hooke, in the mid-1600s) were as essential to Priestley’s lab in Leeds as the electrical machines had been to his Warrington investigations. It was almost impossible to do experiments without being able to move air around in a controlled manner, just as it was impossible to explore electricity without a reliable means of generating it.

In a way, the air pump had enabled the entire field of pneumatic chemistry in the seventeenth century by showing, indirectly, that there was something to study in the first place. If air was simply the empty space between things, what was there to investigate? But the air pump allowed you to remove all the air from a confined space, and thus create a vacuum, which behaved markedly differently from common air, even though air and absence of air were visually indistinguishable. Bells wouldn’t ring in a vacuum, and candles were extinguished. Von Guericke discovered that a metal sphere composed of two parts would seal tightly shut if you evacuated the air between them. Thus the air pump not only helped justify the study of air itself, but also enabled one of the great spectacles of early Enlightenment science.

The following engraving shows the legendary demonstration of the Magdeburg Sphere, which von Guericke presented before Ferdinand III to much amazement: two eight-horse teams attempt – and, spectacularly, fail – to separate the two hemispheres that have been sealed together by the force of a vacuum.

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When we think of technological advances powering scientific discovery, the image that conventionally comes to mind is a specifically visual one: tools that expand the range of our vision, that let us literally see the object of study with new clarity, or peer into new levels of the very distant, the very small. Think of the impact that the telescope had on early physics, or the microscope on bacteriology. But new ways of seeing are not always crucial to discovery. The air pump didn’t allow you to see the vacuum, because of course there was nothing to see; but it did allow you to see it indirectly in the force that held the Magdeburg Sphere together despite all that horsepower. Priestley was two centuries too early to see the molecules bouncing off one another in his beer glasses. But he had another, equally important, technological breakthrough at his disposal: he could measure those molecules, or at least the gas they collectively formed. He had thermometers that could register changes in temperature (plus, crucially, a standard unit for describing those changes). And he had scales for measuring changes in weight that were a thousand times more accurate than the scales da Vinci built three centuries earlier.

This is a standard pattern in the history of science: when tools for measuring increase their precision by orders of magnitude, new paradigms often emerge, because the newfound accuracy reveals anomalies that had gone undetected. One of the crucial benefits of increasing the accuracy of scales is that it suddenly became possible to measure things that had almost no weight. Black’s discovery of fixed air, and its perplexing mixture with common air, would have been impossible without the state-of-the-art scales he employed in his experiments. The whole inquiry had begun when Black heated a quantity of “magnesia alba,” and discovered that it lost a minuscule amount of weight in the process - a difference that would have been imperceptible using older scales. The shift in weight suggested that something was escaping from the magnesia into the air. By then running comparable experiments, heating a wide array of substances, Black was able to accurately determine the weight of carbon dioxide, and consequently prove the existence of the gas. It weighs, therefore it is.

Wednesday April 06 2016

I like trees without leaves for many reasons.  One is that you can put them in front of Big Things and still see the Big Things.

And another is that without leaves in the way, I get to enjoy the peculiar sculptural effects contrived in and on trees by the pruning process.

Consider this photo, which I took this February, looking across Vincent Square towards Parliament and the river:

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Ignore the wheel with the bobbles on it.  Forget the pointy tower on the left.  Consider those trees, and the strange shapes of their branches, caused by pruning.

A particular effect that such pruning causes is when a quite thick branch is lopped off, and the result is like a fist, holding lots more much thinner branches.

Here is another photo, taken down by the river in 2010, which shows that effect:

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Again, forget about the spiky footbridge in the middle of the picture and that crane behind it, which is obviously what I thought I was photoing at the time, with the trees as a mere frame.  Look at the trees, with their big thick branches, that suddenly stop (because of pruning) and then burst out in all directions with lots of much smaller branches.

The photo I’ve been able to track down in my archives that best illustrates this effect is of some trees at the junction between Rochester Row and Vauxhall Bridge Road:

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I seem to recall that Rochester Row has lots of trees thus truncated, which I also seem to recall photoing, several times.  But I was unable to find any such photos.

What this particular snap shows very well is how the tree, once pruned, sometimes sort of blows the end of itself up into a balloon, before the new branches finally manage to burst out, hence the fist effect.  I’m thinking especially of what happened on the right in the above picture.

The reason I went rootling through my archives for snaps of this sort was that when walking along beside the somewhat distant-from-London reaches of the New River, in the vicinity of Enfield, with GodDaughter One last Saturday, we encountered the most extreme example I have ever seen of a tree that has been pruned into a different shape to the one it would naturally have adopted.

Feast your eyes on this:

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Is that not one of the weirdest things you have ever seen?  It looks more like something for swimming in the sea than like a tree.

This snap was snapped at one of the entrances to Enfield Town Park, or Town Park as they call it in Enfield.  You can see the New River in the background.  Had we succeeded in sticking closer to the New River at that particular point in our wanderings, we would have missed this.

What was the pruner thinking, I wonder?  Did he think that he had ended this tree’s growth?  If so, shouldn’t he or someone have painted over the top, to stop it growing some more?  Or, was he actually going for this effect?  Was this some kind of experiment?  Who can say?  Whatever the explanation, I’m glad that this was done and that I got to photo, and to bring it to the attention of the world, this remarkable effect.

I am continuing to read, with huge pleasure, Steven Johnson’s book about Joseph Priestley, The Invention of Air.  Here’s another good bit (pp. 58-61):

With the university system languishing amid archaic traditions, and corporate R&D labs still on the distant horizon, the public space of the coffeehouse served as the central hub of innovation in British society How much of the Enlightenment do we owe to coffee? Most of the epic developments in England between 1650 and 1800 that still warrant a mention in the history textbooks have a coffeehouse lurking at some crucial juncture in their story.  The restoration of Charles II, Newton’s theory of gravity, the South Sea Bubble – they all came about, in part, because England had developed a taste for coffee, and a fondness for the kind of informal networking and shoptalk that the coffeehouse enabled.  Lloyd’s of London was once just Edward Lloyd’s coffeehouse, until the shipowners and merchants started clustering there, and collectively invented the modem insurance company.  You can’t underestimate the impact that the Club of Honest Whigs had on Priestley’s subsequent streak, precisely because he was able to plug in to an existing network of relationships and collaborations that the coffeehouse environment facilitated.  Not just because there were learned men of science sitting around the table – more formal institutions like the Royal Society supplied comparable gatherings – but also because the coffeehouse culture was cross-disciplinary by nature, the conversations freely roaming from electricity, to the abuses of Parliament, to the fate of dissenting churches.

The rise of coffeehouse culture influenced more than just the information networks of the Enlightenment; it also transformed the neurochemical networks in the brains of all those newfound coffee-drinkers.  Coffee is a stimulant that has been clinically proven to improve cognitive function - particularly for memory-related tasks - during the first cup or two. Increase the amount of “smart” drugs flowing through individual brains, and the collective intelligence of the culture will become smarter, if enough people get hooked.  Create enough caffeine-abusers in your society and you’ll be statistically more likely to launch an Age of Reason. That may itself sound like the self-justifying fantasy of a longtime coffee-drinker, but to connect coffee plausibly to the Age of Enlightenment you have to consider the context of recreational drug abuse in seventeenth-century Europe.  Coffee-drinkers are not necessarily smarter; in the long run, than those who abstain from caffeine. (Even if they are smarter for that first cup.) But when coffee originally arrived as a mass phenomenon in the mid-1600s, it was not seducing a culture of perfect sobriety.  It was replacing alcohol as the daytime drug of choice. The historian Tom Standage writes in his ingenious A History of the World in Six Glasses:

The impact of the introduction of coffee into Europe during the seventeenth century was particularly noticeable since the most common beverages of the time, even at breakfast, were weak “small beer” and wine .... Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved .... Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries.

Emerging from that centuries-long bender, armed with a belief in the scientific method and the conviction, inherited from Newtonian physics, that simple laws could be unearthed beneath complex behavior, the networked, caffeinated minds of the eighteenth century found themselves in a universe that was ripe for discovery. The everyday world was teeming with mysterious phenomena – animals, plants, rocks, weather – that had never before been probed with the conceptual tools of the scientific method.  This sense of terra incognita also helps explain why Priestley could be so innovative in so many different disciplines, and why Enlightenment culture in general spawned so many distinct paradigm shifts.  Amateur dabblers could make transformative scientific discoveries because the history of each field was an embarrassing lineage of conjecture and superstition.  Every discipline was suddenly new again.

Tuesday April 05 2016

Today I made the mistake of going out to do something before I had shoved something up here.  So this is not a complicated posting.  It’s a rubbish lorry, which I photoed today, just before doing something, near the Angel tube station:

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Dirty Harry’s Waste Management, of Chingford, would seem to be the kind of enterprise that doesn’t have its own website.  It is merely mentioned on lots of other websites, of the sort that enable you to do research on enterprises that don’t have websites.

The art on the side of this rubbish collecting lorry reminds me of that on these Wicked Campers.

Monday April 04 2016

Recently I wrote about footbridges, one in particular, in theatreland.  As that posting illustrates, I especially like footbridges that join buildings (in that case theatres), rather than merely convey members of the public who are on a journey through the city, even though I myself cannot cross such bridges, because I too am only a member of the public.

The London epicentre of such footbridge action is situated near Tower Bridge, on the south side of the river.  Footbridges of greatly varying heights above the ground and almost beyond counting connect the tall brick buildings on each side of whatever the street is where all these footbridges are to be seen.

I knew that on various journeys along the river I had photoed these bridges, but where were such photos to be found?  Oh well, I thought.  They’ll turn up.

Last night, they did turn up.  I was idling through photo-directories past, looking for something entirely different which I may, or may not, be telling you about Real Soon Now, and suddenly I came across a clutch of photos of the very footbridges I had in mind.  I immediately copied all these photos across into the rather recently created Footbridges directory.  Photos like this:

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None of the photos I took that evening of these bridges were technically very accomplished.  The light was tricky and I think I was rather tired by the time I took them.  But, there they were, the bridges, and the photos of the bridges.

I chose the above photo from the half dozen or more that I had not because it is the best of these photos, but because it contains this vital piece of information, in writing.  Close up:

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Le Pont de la Tour?  Google google.  Apparently it’s a posh eatery, for the kind of posh people who now live in these now very posh buildings.  And immediately I had the name of the street.

Shad.

Don’t ask me how you are supposed to say that.  Shad?  The Shad?  Shad Thames?  I don’t know.  But there’s the name.  Shad.  Sounds like Sean Connery saying Sad.  (Do you suppose that the reason Sean Connery pronounces S as Sh is because of how Sean is pronounced?  Jusht a shuggeshtion.)

Armed with this address, I could pin down exactly as opposed to approximately the location of this footbridge clutch, so that I can return there, and take better photos, and look them up on the www some more, and generally celebrate these striking structures.

And the moral is: when you are (I am) out and about taking photos, always get wherever you are (I am) in writing, by photoing writing.  Photo signs of shops, signs outside places, street signs, or, in this case restaurant signs.  That way, you can work out where everything was, even years later.  The above picture was taken nearly six years ago.

Sunday April 03 2016

Which meant he did it with two whole balls to spare and scored five runs more than necessary.  Here.  West Indies swept the board.  Under 19s, Ladies, and now the Gents.

The name of the four-sixes man begins with “Br” and towards the end there’s “thwait”.  So, this blog can feel some comfort.  It’s only a game.  Which is BMdotcom speak for: My side lost.

Incoming from Darren (to whom thanks also for various recent comments):

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Saw this White Van story and thought of you.

Outstanding.

The artist, known only as Mr Konjusha is 22 and from east London.

His work has been spotted at various locations since he started drawing on the vehicles about three weeks ago. He said he had worked on 10 vans so far.

I think the whiteness of White Vans is all part of their appeal.  If they are white and clean, they look really clean.  If they are white a dirty, they look really dirty.

But if they are white and dirty, but if the dirt has been turned into art, what are they then?

Once again we have here an art form which is greatly encouraged by cheap digital photography.  Would Mr Konjusha be so inclined to exert himself thus, were it not possible for his efforts to be quickly and easily recorded and equally easily shared with an admiring public?

Judging by what he says about how he was trying to put a smile on delivery drivers’ faces, he started doing this just for a bit of fun.  But if he likes the fame and the attention he is now getting, he’ll perhaps continue for a while, more than he would have done in the previous century.  Maybe, thanks to all the attention, his next job will be in advertising.

What’s the betting someone turns this dirty art into something that will actually get printed, nice and cleanly, onto a nice clean van?

I’ve included “cats and kittens” in the category list because the guy says that some of the faces he does look like hybrid human/lion faces.

Saturday April 02 2016

Here is a sunny evening photo from a few days back, just after the clocks had moved forward.  The sun got the email, and was shining enthusiastically at an amazingly late hour.  But the tree is still in its winter, skeletal form.  Which I like:

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Today will be a day out with G(od)D(aughter) One, in weather that now looks like it was ordered via a website where you can decide, except that apparently there’ll be rain in the early evening instead of a sunny early evening like it was for the above photo.  “Showers”, they said last night on the telly.  That could mean anything from spectacular clouds to total dreariness.  We shall see.

Whatever.  Spring is definitely here.

This morning’s weather looks, from out of my kitchen window, like this:

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The building work opposite will probably never look as pretty again as it does now.  I feel rather the same about many new buildings, of the more serviceable and vernacular sort, as I do about trees, preferring such buildings also when they are still at the skeletal stage.

Friday April 01 2016

So back on Wednesday afternoon, I said I’d be going out, and I did go out.

I took a ton of photos, including this one, of the Wheel:

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And then this one, of Big Ben:

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And then this one of the Wheel again, and a general view of the River:

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I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to being able to enjoy a cricket match and a walkabout, simultaneously.

The T20I, as they now call it, has worked out perfectly.  England are in the final (see above) by beating NZ.  Good.

And the West Indies are in the final also, because they beat India.  Even though Gayle was out in only the second over of their very difficult chase.  The Windian Ladies are also in their final.  Also good.

Good because cricket needs the West Indies to care about cricket and to go on playing it and playing it well.  (Indians are not going to lose interest in cricket any time soon, no matter what their team does or doesn’t do.)

Time was when the Windies were great at test cricket.  Then they became crap at test cricket and fans like me feared that they might soon switch their attention to a quite different sort of game.  Well, now they have.  Twenty-twenty cricket.

What do you suppose this is?:

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Just looking at that, I can’t tell.  A bit of pink string or wool?  A vapour trail in the sunset?  Clue: This is Friday here at BMdotcom and living creatures are involved.

But click on it, getting the bigger picture, and it all becomes clearer.

However, I submit that this clarity is not because of the picture being slightly bigger.  It is because we see where this strange Thin Thing is to be seen.  We don’t so much see what it is as deduce it.  We?  Maybe it was not like that for you.  Maybe you have a better screen than I do.  But this was how I worked it out.

The picture is one of these.  6K called it “The thin pink line”, so I’m guessing he realised how it might be cropped.  By, e.g., me.